COEBURN — Eastside’s Matt Hamilton has stayed up late watching a lot of film since becoming a head coach. Zack Snyder’s “300” — a cult favorite with high school football players everywhere — hasn’t been on his screen.
“My assistant coaches can’t believe that I coach a team called the Spartans and I haven’t seen that movie, but I’m just not a movie guy,” said Hamilton, whose team posted a 7-3 regular-season record last year before collecting the community’s first football playoff win since 1991.
Two gridiron empires invade the Cumberland District this season: Clintwood and J.I. Burton.
In last year’s second round of the playoffs, the Raiders beat the Spartans 49-28, scoring 42 first- half points on only 11 plays. The Greenwave — who collected the Division 1 state championship in 2011 — have been absent from Eastside’s slate for two seasons.
“If I allow our kids to believe they cannot compete with those two schools, we’re done from the get-go,” said Hamilton, a player alumnus of Coeburn teams that held their own with Norton and Clintwood.
“The last couple of years we’ve been playing with the Honakers and the (Wise) Centrals. I think our program is enough on the upswing that we can be competitive in those kinds of ballgames,” he said.
The bad news offensively is that the Spartans head into 2013 after graduating the stellar rushing tandem of Cumberland District player of the year Erikk Banks and Ethan Collins. The good news is that Caleb Riner, a 1,000-yard passer and virtual coach on the field, returns for his third season starting at quarterback.
“He can pretty much run this offense without us. I could ask Caleb to run a 20-minute session and he wouldn’t have to ask a single question,” Hamilton said. “He can make adjustments on the field that a young, inexperienced quarterback is not going to be able to make.”
Hamilton’s offense intentionally emulates that of Burton coach Jimbo Adams. And like a Norton offense, a lot of players are involved. Fast, athletic kids with good hands like J.D. Slone, Tyler Elam, Austin Smallwood, Kobe Lawson, Nick Sturgill and backup QB Justin Banks are going to share the load that Collins and Erikk Banks bore last season.
Veteran tackles Dalton Sexton (6-0, 220, Sr.) and Cody Mitchell (5-11, 190, Sr.) are joined by guards Josh Jacquess (5-10, 205, Sr.) and Daniel Edwards (6-1, 250, Jr.) and center Tim Craiger (5-10, 185, Sr.).
Hamilton feels good about his offense. With eight returning starters on the other side of the football, he might feel even better about his defense.
“Three out of four linebackers are coming off of 70-plus tackle seasons. And we have a lot of linebacker-type kids to play in the box. Not all will be playing linebacker,” Hamilton said. “If I don’t screw it up, we should be pretty good defensively.”
Dillon Meade (6-0, 225, Sr.) returns at inside linebacker with Bailey Baker (5-8, 170, Jr.) moving in at the other. Sturgill (6-0, 185, Sr.) is the unit leader at outside linebacker, joined by the veteran Sexton at the other OLB.
Converted LB Jeremy Mullins (5-10, 215, Sr.) drops into a stance at tackle this year, joined by Hunter Buchanan (6-2, 250, Sr.) on the other side. Both Craiger and Mitchell started at the ends last season.
Lawson and Ben Yates look to spend time in the secondary. Banks and Slone are going to split time in the defensive backfield, depending on whose legs are freshest after the offensive series.