The East Marion Eagles have returned to the gridiron to prepare for what promises to be another exciting season of football in 2022. What the Eagles' roster lacks in quantity, head coach Brad Hughes says his team intends to make up for with quality, and they'll receive the opportunity to put their skills to the test Friday against the highly-touted Jefferson Davis County Jaguars.
Hughes knew entering the spring that he would be replacing eight graduating seniors who played key roles on the field for the Eagles in 2021, but he anticipated a larger turnout for spring training than he received. Despite the low numbers, Hughes said he does expect to see more students join the team over the months to come, as other sports' competition seasons come to a close and everyone's full attention returns to football.
"We've got a few that aren't with us for different reasons, but we're going to have a few more trickle in over the summer. Hopefully, we'll be going into the season with about 30," Hughes said. "It sort of limits the amount of things we're able to do here in the spring, but typically this time of year we're out here working on principle things like fundamentals and communication, so we should still be able to accomplish a lot of our goals with the players we have today."
The Eagles are looking to bounce back from a 3-8 campaign last season, in which two of their losses were the results of forfeits to West Marion and Columbia. Of the six losses they took on the field, three were decided by a touchdown or less. That's why Hughes believes it to be crucial for his team to focus on fundamentals in the spring, in an effort to prevent costly mistakes that typically come back to bite undisciplined teams in the fall.
"We focus a lot on discipline, fundamentals and doing all of the small stuff that sometimes go unnoticed or unappreciated," Hughes said. "Our goal is to strive for perfection and make sure we're doing all of those little things right. They might not meet the eye as things that make the biggest difference in a ball game, but executing all of those things at a high level really adds up in your favor on Friday nights."
Though the Eagles' spring routine may sound simple, they're also embracing a tremendous challenge. East Marion will host a spring jamboree Friday against JDC, the reigning Class 3A state champions from a prominent program in Bassfield. The results won't appear in the wins and losses columns in August, but Hughes hopes the contest against an elite opponent will give the Eagles a taste of what it will take to compete against the best of the best in 2022.
"I'll tell you right now, there's really no better measuring stick in South Mississippi than Jeff Davis County," Hughes said. "I'm a firm believer in the idea that, if you want to be the best, you've got to beat the best. They do a lot of things at a really high level, and we believe competing against a team like that will expose the areas we need to focus on cleaning up over the course of the summer. This is the time of year that you want to see those flaws so you can correct them and see where you stand going into August."
Friday's home jamboree is scheduled to kick off at 6 p.m. Hughes and his staff hope to see a lot of support from the community in the stands that evening for an early look at what the Eagles will bring to the field in the fall.
"We're optimistic, and we're going to go in and give it our best," Hughes said. "We want to see where we stack up against the best and continue growing as a team from there, so I'm excited for the challenge, and our guys are ready to take it head-on."