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SERIES: East Hall football coach Matt Turner constructing a program with stability
Matt Turner
East Hall High football coach Matt Turner instructs practice Sept. 1, 2021 in Gainesville. Photo by Bill Murphy

Matt Turner has always had an affinity for construction. 

It was his favorite class as a student at East Hall High.

Now, as the head football coach for the Vikings (0-1) and years working his way up the ranks of their program, he likes to think of his job as a work in progress.

For Turner, the parallels are strong between construction and his job building the East Hall football program, which is coming of a solid 4-4 season in 2020.  

Turner, 40, has returned home because it is where he has always wanted to be. 

He sees some early positives, even though East Hall has just started the regular season. 

“I coached here for 10 years (before),” the former Vikings assistant said. “When the (head coaching) opportunity opened up, I saw it was a good fit for me.”

Up next, East Hall visits Franklin County on Friday in Carnesville.

Coming back to East Hall, for Turner, was like being a contractor surveying the land. It’s a tangible connection to progress too as the Vikings play on a new field in 2021. 

As an educator, Turner walks the same hallways as his students and peers. 

All of this felt all too familiar to a man who believes in the community and wants to build football up through the East Hall community. 

“We have a lot of deep ties to the community,” Turner said.

The Vikings’ staff is peppered with coaches familiar with the community. 

There are former players, parents who had players come through the program, as well as men who are heavily involved in the lives of young people in the program.

“Coach Turner is the type of guy who knows all our kids have different backgrounds, and he is building our kids up. He is building relationships with them,” East Hall assistant coach Neal Curry said. “Coach Turner (graduating) from school here means that some of the parents know him. When you get to know the community, you can take the program to another level.”

So far, there have been some early returns to people knowing the people of East Hall. Last year, the Vikings only had about 30 players on the roster for former coach Michael Perry. 

So far this season, while East Hall dropped its home opener to West Hall, the Vikings suited up about 55 players, Turner said.

How did Turner do this? 

Especially at East Hall, where traditionally the best players or athletes have favored basketball?

“Recruiting the hallways every day, nonstop,” he said. “We have allowed players to come out, even though they missed out on the summer. Trying to find a spot for everybody. We are putting kids in positions to be successful.

“There is talent here: basketball talent or playing other sports,” Turner continued. “I always said. ‘if we can get those kids involved with football, we can get something going because there is talent here. It has just been in other areas. It starts from the ground up.’”

The foundation is being set in Year 1, for Turner, playing in a grueling Region 8-4A against No. 1 Jefferson and No. 7 Flowery Branch. 

While there are more players available on the team, 70 percent of East Hall’s roster is populated with freshmen and sophomores. 

There are only 10 seniors on the roster, with one returning to the gridiron for the first time since the seventh grade. 

Luckily, for Turner, one of those seniors is the steady leadership of quarterback Clete Cooper, who is one of the best at his position in Hall County.

“It is just going to take time,” he said about building the program. “I live here. I went to school here. I am a Viking. I want to see it be successful. You have some coaches who come and go. It is just football for them.

“For me, it is more than just football.”

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