By Zack Huffman
For coach Rodney Hackney, the North Clayton Eagles are a bit of a question mark.
He knows what the team is capable of, he just isn't sure if the Eagles will be ready to assume their role of the team to beat in the region.
The defending 4-AAAA region champs are returning with 17 seniors, but they lack the hunger Hackney recognized in his squad a year ago.
"Nobody expected us to win region last year. I think last year's group was a lot hungrier for it," he said. "This group has had some success, so they're kind of lackadaisical, I think. It may just be me over-analyzing, so we'll see."
Hackney came to North Clayton last season and found a team that was four years removed from the post-season with the most recent playoff win coming in 1997. Through the course of his first season, he took the Eagles on a 10-2 odyssey that came to an end when Statesboro knocked them out of the second round of state competition, 14-12.
This season, with the taste of success still fresh on their lips, the players of North Clayton will have to realize that they will be playing with targets on their backs, according to Hackney.
"Right now we're relaxed," he said. "Last year we were constantly trying to prove ourselves."
The Eagles return star running back Clarence Jackson, who led the region in 2008 with over 1,800 rushing yards.
While the Eagles spent most of the time on the ground last season thanks, in part, to the scrambling legs of quarterback Milton Artiss, they will likely take flight into more of balanced team with new passer Dennis Johnson, who steps in to fill the void left by Artiss who transferred to Westlake High School.
"Milton kept us at a ground attack," said Hackney. "Dennis gives us a little more options in the pass. He's a lot better thrower."
Despite the abundance of seniors who now have state playoff experience, Hackney has been most concerned with the lack of vocal leadership he is getting from his upperclassmen.
"It may be confidence, it may cockiness, they may just be ready to play, who knows," said Hackney. "For me, it's a little rare to have that many seniors and not have anybody be vocal."
Although Hackney was pleased with the success he witnessed in summer 7-on-7 league play, the real test for the Eagle's will come this Friday when they travel to Tri-Cities High School for a pre-season scrimmage.
"Their guys are real fired up. We beat them last year," said Hackney. "I hope we can get our kids fired up. I'd hate to get embarrassed."
Scrimmages aside, the real focus for North Clayton is preparing itself for Aug. 28 when they face county rival, Riverdale at Southern Crescent Stadium.