Kyle Hockman has returned McEachern to its place among the top teams in Cobb County during his five seasons in Powder Springs.
After finishing 5-5 in his first year, the Indians have made four consecutive playoff appearances, won three region championships and posted a combined record of 38-8. McEachern also had 10-win seasons in 2009, 2010 and 2011 after not winning more than nine games in any year since 1999.
“I think we’re getting to where we want to be,” Hockman said. “Our numbers are high, and we’ve got a lot of good players and good coaches. We’re working very hard in the weight room and in the classroom. Obviously it’s always an ongoing process as you lose graduates and things like that. But our youth programs are working hard and doing things right.
“So we’re excited about the direction of it. We’re looking to get into that exclusive company of talking about state championships on a consistent basis, to be in that hunt. We’ve just got to do a better job at the end of some close games and in the playoffs.”
The next step for McEachern will be finding a way to avoid the early round playoff losses that have haunted the program in recent years. In 10 playoff appearances since reaching the state championship game in 1998, the Indians have advanced to the quarterfinals only once (1999), losing in the first round six times. In 2012, McEachern’s Region 4-AAAAAA was matched up in the first round against traditional power 1-AAAAAA, and the Indians lost 30-28 to a fourth-seeded Colquitt County team that reached the state semifinals. But Hockman doesn’t want to use the playoff draw as an excuse.
“What we kind of strive for is to play state championship-level football, and whether that happens in the first round or the second round or the fifth round, that’s what we want to play and that’s what our kids want to play,” he said. “If you keep all that in perspective, you just go battle and let things take care of themselves. You’re going to have to win five tough games no matter what. Obviously there’s better draws than others and all that, but there’s nothing we can control about that. We’ve just got to play and work hard and let the chips fall.”
The Indians this season will return nine starters on defense, including linemen Henry Famurewa and McKenzie Billingslea and linebacker Glenn Frazier. Hockman’s bigger concerns after spring practice are about the offense, where only five starters return. But those include quarterback Ty Clemons, who shared time at the position with Ty Griffin last season; running back Taj Griffin, who could be on the verge of a breakout season; and rising junior Chuma Edoga, a 6-foot-4, 275-pound tackle who has offers from several ACC and SEC schools.
“We lost four offensive linemen, and that’s always a big area of concern when you lose that many at one position,” Hockman said. “And that position is very important. But we like what we’ve got coming. We moved a kid over from defense, and we’ve got [Edoga] coming back at tackle. We’ve got to mix some younger kids in with some rising seniors that haven’t played a lot but have been in the program and working hard. But we’re excited about it.”
2012 record: 8-3, 8-0 in Region 4-AAAAAA, lost to Colquitt County 30-28 in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
Starters returning: 5 offense, 9 defense
Key players lost: QB Ty Griffin, OL JaJuan Delaney, OL Sherrod Pittman, TE Chris Okeh, DB Kel Parham
Key players returning: QB Ty Clemons, RB Taj Griffin, OL Chuma Edoga, LB Glenn Frazier, DL Henry Famurewa, DL McKenzie Billingslea
Aug. 24 – Brookwood (at Georgia Dome)
Aug. 30 – Lassiter
Sept. 13 – Pebblebrook
Sept. 20 – at Marietta
Sept. 27 – Kennesaw Mountain
Oct. 4 – at Campbell
Oct. 11 – South Cobb
Oct. 18 – at North Cobb
Nov. 1 – at Harrison
Nov. 8 – Hillgrove
Outlook: Defending 4-AAAAAA champion McEachern has won 15 region titles in the past 27 seasons, including three since 2009, and the Indians should be in the hunt again this year. Running back Taj Griffin could become one of Cobb County’s best this season. He will team with experienced QB Ty Clemons in what should be a potent offense. The Indians are loaded with experience on defense, where they return nine starters. But the unit must improve upon the 24 points per game it allowed last season.