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East Eagles flash signs of skill, speed and grit

East hopes to get back into that Beast Mode, to borrow the nickname of latest Super Bowl MVP Marshawn Lynch. New head coach John “Mac” McMillan looks to revive one of the finer area programs, after a down year and 0-3 start in 2014.

Friday, East had breakaway TD runs by its fastest backs, Nick Lyons (5-8 1/2, 146 jr.) for 22 yards then by Nykeem Brooks (5-11 1/2, 156 jr.) for eight yards. Bullish Cole Revis (5-10 1/2, 175 jr.) rumbled for 41 yards, right after East recovered an onside kick. Suddenly the HHS lead (24-7 at halftime) was down to 38-19, with a minute left in the third quarter. The teams exchanged TDs, with Lyons scoring late on a 60-yard pass play. Brooks ran a kickoff 83 yards, as further deja vu to East big plays. He runs sprints in the 4.5s, Lyons at 4.6.

McMillan knows first-hand about explosive East backs. Shack Davis ran for Mars Hill, where “Coach Mac” was the offensive line coach for the past two years. Michael Robinson was a safety. He is another former star East back, and is a link to Eagle glory now that he coaches the secondary. Mac hopes the two fast Eagles can approach “Shack Davis’ awe factor,” but skip his “dancing” moves until first zooming through holes to get outside. He likes Lyons’ “heart, and effort.”

The main carrier is whomever “breaks tackles” best. Cameron Johnson (6-0 1/2, 170 sr.) and FB Aaron Messer (5-5 1/2, 195 sr.) add power. RB-WR Jesse Rogers (6-0, 195 sr.), also the usual kicker, is among injured Eagles hoping to return soon.

Mac was a defense-first prep coach in Georgia, for 17 years. He was a quarterback in Calhoun, Ga., and a drop-back QB for Mars Hill (Class of ’89) and teammate of HHS Athletic Dir. B.J. Laughter.

Mac got Pike County, Ga. to go from 0-10 to 9-2 in year three. East Athletic Director Doug Justice and Principal Scott Rhodes, both former athletic head coaches, praise Mac’s turnaround ability. McMillan arrived in January. Steven Whitt left right after one winless season, except for a forfeit by Smoky Mountain.

Merely two years ago, the Eagles were 11-2 overall and unbeaten in the WNCAC in their eighth and final season led by Brett Chappell who now coaches Pisgah. East’s rebuilding is boosted by skilled talent from back-to-back junior varsity WNCAC champs, which Chappell himself now lauds.

Coach Mac looks for positives and favors “rewarding, instead of punishing. On Friday nights, I’m generally not a hollering guy.” Starting the second half versus HHS, he implored “c’mon, let’s go!” and the Eagles responded.

He said the 43 varsity Eagles worked hard with weights, speed and agility. “They want to be successful. If we play with the right attitude and effort, we can compete.”

He leans to a run-first offense, at times with two wingbacks. The “pistol” formation’s shallow shotgun snap near runners is good for handoffs. Running plays include the “double wing belly” (fullback handoff), speed sweeps, counter action, and buck action with the fullback going one way and a halfback the other way,” Mac said.

At quarterback, Austin Pritchard (5-8, 145 jr.) is a throwback to quick Chase Hill in sprint-outs. “Our quarterbacks can run,” Mac said. Stronger-armed Trace Goldsmith (6-2, 200 jr.) runs hard. He threw for over 1,100 for the Carolina Wildcats squad of home-schoolers. He played much of the second half last week, helping spark the comeback. Kyle Frady (6-1, 197 jr.), who led JV in ’13, is out with a left knee ACL. He said he will play baseball in spring.

Main receivers include Josh Glynn (5-9 1/2, 150 jr.), JV’s go-to Eagle in ’13 who can “open everybody’s eyes,” tight end Gunnar Harris (6-2 1/2, 200 sr.), and 2013 varsity QB Austin Fisher (5-8, 165 sr.). Mac notes Fisher “was in playoffs, when the bullets are flying.”

Up front, tackles include biggest Eagle Trey Taylor (6-4 1/2, 260 sr.), Brendan Patty (6-1, 250 sr.), wrestlers Patrick Matousek (5-11, 230 sr.), Brody Buckner (5-11 1/2, 220 sr.) and Tyler Buckner (6-2, 240 jr.). For his pulling guards, McMillan eyes Sam Hargrove (6-0, 205 sr.), wrestler Chase Blaken (5-9 1/2, 190 sr.) and Andrew Morgan (6-1, 200 jr.). Center Devin Neal (6-1, 300 sr.) is among vocal leaders. “They’re strong kids,” Mac said. “Blocking technique, speed and footwork are most important. Varsity has 18 linemen and 12 linebackers.

The epitome of the 3-5-3 defense is “all five linebackers pursuing the ball,” Coach Mac said. The aim is to “control every gap.” Blitzers include fast, versatile OLB Hargrove who can cover deep like a safety. The offense prefers to “chew up clock, on the ground,” but “we’ll throw it” versus stacked defenses.

Coach McMillan has led upset squads before. One “scared the [heck] out of the (much favored) conference champ.” He looks to “sneak up on someone” and get inspiring victories.

East is off this Friday, when North hosts Hendersonville to help decide the county championship. West is at North Buncombe. Next week, The Tribune series concludes by featuring Hendersonville Bearcats.

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