East Hall High seen more changes to its football program than most others in Hall county during the offseason.
The Vikings waved goodbye to three coaches on their staff, including long-standing head coach Bryan Gray, who after an 11-year run stepped down to move his career toward an administrative role at the school. And after years of taking notes, cue the entrance of newly-promoted head coach, Scott Patrick, taking the reins of his predecessor to implement a different kind of culture, at East Hall while preserving a winning tradition.
“East Hall has changed this year, the kids have been through some adversity,” said Patrick, hired by Gray in 2008 as a defensive line coach and a member of the East Hall community for the last 14 years.
It is a true reset following a historic 2017 campaign. The Vikings graduated the school’s all-time leading passer in Austin Parker, along with a slew of veteran staples who helped bring East Hall its first playoff win in 24 years.
Patrick said the focus has been redirected at the fundamentals, but the mindset of continuing that playoff tradition is still very much in view. He looks to a senior class of 19 to set that benchmark for a sizeable litter of incoming freshmen.
“We’ve been focusing on leadership, accountability and discipline,” Patrick added. “Being a part of the program with coach (Wayne) Bradshaw (in the 90s), I’m looking to bring back some of these traditions from back then. ...We’ve been pushing the envelope, pushing the kids very hard ...to get them accountable for their actions, get them to built as a team all-around.”
East Hall’s region schedule certainly won’t make this transition any easier. Fannin County, Lumpkin County and in-county foe North Hall are opponents Patrick feels are on the rise in 2018. The dominance of clear region frontrunner Greater Atlanta Christian is another one the Vikings first-year head coach Patrick can’t ignore, while the addition of Cherokee Bluff provides a little mystery to the region.
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Patrick understands it will be tough to replicate the success East Hall had on offense in 2017. Arguably the classification’s most prolific spread attack in 2017, the Vikings set a school record in points scored while producing one 1,000-yard rusher, 1,000-yard receiver and a 4,000-yard passer through 11 games. East Hall was caught in a number of shootouts last season as well, totaling 50 or more points in six games.
The Vikings are now faced with replacing a host of that experienced offensive talent, most notably record-setting quarterback Parker, who not only threw for a Hall County record 4,563 yards in 2017 but was fifth in state history for career passing yards with 9,573. East Hall also waved goodbye to first-team All-State wideout Sedrion Morse.
Even so, Patrick doesn’t see any major changes outside a few wrinkles in offensive coordinator Michael Day’s scheme. There are four quarterbacks competing for the starting job, with one more competing for playing time under center.
“The great thing about our air raid is, we can do multiple things out of it. And the kids understand it,” Patrick said. “They understand the concepts. But having coach Day here, we’re adding wrinkles to it, but with the same concepts and principles.”
Patrick confirmed that senior Zander Mann among freshmen Clete Cooper and Christian Torres, junior Kyle Baugh and junior Mon Prather were the five candidates for the starting job under center.
“Working with our quarterbacks, we still expect to have a decent passing game,” Patrick said. “And we’re looking to change up our offense a little bit with the run, and we’ve got 3-4 good backs. We’re hoping it very well could be a 60-40 run. But we’re planning on pounding it, then opening it up with the passing game.”
Senior workhorse Cambren Harrison (1,150 yards, 18 touchdowns) should play a big part in that philosophy. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound Harrison returns as the primary ball carrier for the Vikings. His experience catching balls from the backfield only adds more versatility to the offense as well. Others expected to share carries with Harrison will be junior Drew Highfield and Gimel Patta.
Seniors Kylan Curry and Mann, Prather, Kaymani Leiro, Dylan Tims and Xzavier Ramsey make up East Hall’s receiving corps.
The Vikings showcase a veteran presence in the trenches with a rotation of seniors Gio Rebollar, JD Lee, Athyn Thurmond, Carlos Zaragoza, Marco Gonzalez, Danny Restrepo and junior Chandler Arrowood.
As explosive the offense was last season, East Hall surrendered 38 points a contest, often finding itself in a number of shootouts last season. Patrick hopes to change that with a little more intensity up front.
“Defensive wise, the intensity is up,” Patrick said. “We’re going to be very multiple and we’re gonna get after people. “We’re gonna change that culture, and we’re planning on dominating. That’s our whole key this season.”
But the first-year coach will have to do it a predominantly young unit, especially on the back end, as Curry is the only returning starter in the Vikings’ secondary. Others to fill the holes at defensive back will be juniors Prather, Drew Highfield and De’Shaun Gray, and freshman Clete Cooper.
Junior Logan Howard, Lee, senior Elijah Finch, Mann, Taylor Myers and Will Calle — who made the shift over from defensive line — will see action at linebacker. And at defensive line, Harrison joins Rebollar, Thurmond, and Arrowood to keep energy high in the trenches.
Although Thurmond was featured at kicker during the’s team scrimmage on Aug. 10, Patrick said East Hall’s competition for the kicking/punting duties is still ongoing.
With 20 freshmen and nine sophomores occupying the roster, East Hall’s success may be heavily dependant on how quickly this young group can adjust to varsity. And with Parker no longer in the conversation, Harrison could be the one to carry the biggest load, while establishing the tempo from the backfield on offense.
A trying schedule awaits the Vikings around the bend, as defending Region 7-3A champion Greater Atlanta Christian returns a handful of highly-touted college recruits from last year’s state semifinal squad. Patrick fully expects Lumpkin County, Fannin County and North Hall to be much improved, while the addition of Cherokee Bluff brings a little mystery in its inaugural season.
“There’s not an easy game on this schedule we have,” Patrick said. “...That was my goal coming in that, for us to compete, we’ve gotta up the intensity. We’ve got to get stronger, and we gotta learn to be disciplined. So that’s how we’re looking to compete. I’m looking to build that success in order to continue our playoff run. That’s my sight. It’s going to be difficult, but if the kids fight they’re gonna do it.”