In his fourth year of varsity football, East Hall senior running back Jamond Witt and the rest of the Vikings have the chance to win their first Homecoming game.
But that’s far down on the list of why Friday’s 8-AA North opener against Rabun County (2-2, 0-0) is so important to the Viking’s season.
“It’s 0-0 now basically,” Witt said. “They’ve gotten better and we’ve gotten better, so it should be a good game.”
East Hall (2-2, 0-0) is looking for an improvement over last year’s 2-3 subregion record, and it all starts with the Wildcats at East Hall Stadium.
“The first four games are important, but nothing like this Friday,” said East Hall coach Bryan Gray. “Region is what it’s all about.”
The first four games were the building blocks to the subregion schedule, a chance for the team to learn from early mistakes.
Which is why Gray, in his fifth year as the head coach, looks for the toughest opponents he can find.
“I try to get the best teams I can get,” Gray said. “If you’re going into region, you better go in battle-tested.”
This season that also meant playing three consecutive games on the road after opening the season at home, something the coach hadn’t intended until scheduling forced his hand.
The schedule didn’t bother the Vikings much through the first two weeks, as they buried Hall County opponents West Hall and Johnson by a combined score of 88-31.
“We’re definitely better than last year,” Witt said. “We’re more physical, we play a lot harder.
“We play like we really want it this year.”
Then came the road trip to No. 9 Elbert County, and then over to Adairsville to play yet another undefeated team.
A 2-0 start became a .500 record after four weeks.
“If you’re playing a top team you can’t turn the ball over,” Gray said. “Before you know it you’re down three touchdowns.”
The Vikings fell 48-0 at Elbert County, and then 25-9 at Adairsville. Now the team is chomping at the bit to get back on track and learn from their mistakes.
“It gave us a great understanding of what we need to fix,” Gray said.
East Hall had a bye week to fix the mistakes exposed by the last two quality opponents, and now the Vikings return home ready to show once again that this can be a successful season; a season the seniors can remember fondly.
“All of us seniors, we want to win so that we can have something to look back on,” Witt said.
This season is also the culmination of a long-term plan set by the coaching staff five years ago to include a youth football program. This year, those first players in the youth program are now juniors, and the most of the seniors went up through the strong middle school program.
“This is the first year that the majority of the team has played youth football,” Gray said. “We’re much better because of the youth program.”
The Vikings are already showing off just how much deeper they are now that they are loaded with four and five-year football players, instead of juniors with just a couple of years under their belts.
“We all knew that it was going to at least five years until we could have the depth to play with anybody,” Gray said.
This season, however, the increased depth won’t translate into any more success unless East Hall can start strong in subregion play, which means going all out against a team the Vikings defeated 42-26 last season in Tiger.
The key will be to get the running game, led by Witt, going again after scoring just one touchdown in the last two games.
The Wildcats can run as well, and as the Viking can attest to after last season’s meeting, Rabun County will stick around for all four quarters, regardless of the score.
“Rabun’s as well coached as any team in the state,” Gray said. “They might be the hardest playing team and they don’t stop until the final whistle.”
East Hall is looking to set the tone in the game, and set the tone for the rest of the season by opening subregion play 1-0.
Winning the school’s first Homecoming game in nearly a decade would be the cherry on top.