Entering the fifth season under coach Greg Hill, East Mecklenburg High's football team gets the expectations ratcheted up a few notches this year.
The Eagles finished last season 9-4, with close losses to Independence, South Meck, West Charlotte, and Richmond County in the second round of the 4AA playoffs. The record was East Meck's best under Hill, former defensive coordinator for West Charlotte.
Hill offered some thoughts about the upcoming season; answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. Dan Tierney
On using last year's success as motivation this year… “Our kids always believed that they could compete. I think the main thing from last year was that now they've actually seen it on the field. Our kids now have a lot more confidence.”
On replacing top rusher Mike Mayhew and All-Observer linebacker Devin Johnson… “You take a kid like Mayhew or Devin Johnson, and I don't know if you ever really do replace them. It's going to depend on how much the young kids learn and adapt to the speed of the game. From Thursday night (practices) to Friday night (games), the speed of the game's not even close.”
On East Meck's notoriously tough defenses… “Defense, in my opinion, is a mentality. It's something where you don't have to be as precise, like on offense. You have to be able to run, have a little attitude and have some pride in what you do. Teams are going to pretty much take on the personality of the head coach.
“You look at Tommy (Knotts) over there (at Independence), and he's an offensive guy. Of course, I'm a defensive guy.”
On solving some of the offensive woes from last year… “A lot of people don't realize that this is the first year we'll have at least four guys returning on the offensive line. We're going to rely on a couple kids at running back, rather than just one. I think we'll throw the ball a little better. (Junior quarterback) Olen Little's got a year under his belt. He came in during the fifth game last year and really grew up a lot.”
On making East Meck into a state championship-caliber team… “We have to show consistency and have another year like we had last year. In my opinion, if you can consistently be in the top three (in Southwestern 4A), you can be a state title contender. When you come out of this conference, you're not going to fear anybody. The only problem is, by games six, seven and eight, we've beat each other up. We're just going to have to hope that going into the latter part of the year that we're fairly healthy.”