By Zack Huffman
The bar has been set. Now coach Rodney Hackney is faced with the unfortunate task of producing a region-championship encore.
Among the many surprises from last football season was North Clayton's astonishing ability to rise from the ashes of losing their head coach to make a dominating 10-2 run, claiming the 4-AAAA region championship and battling into the second round of the state playoffs for the first time since 1997.
Now with one year at North Clayton under his belt, head coach Rodney Hackney is a little concerned about the usual suspects that often accompany success.
"I think the respect is still there, but I don't see the same hunger as before," he said. "I don't know if it's not hunger or if we're just comfortable."
Though, Hackney is hesitant to make too quick of a judgment based on what he saw in spring practice, when he still has months worth of summer workouts before the team takes the field for the first day of fall practice.
"Spring is just the first indicator," he said. "Summer really tells the tale."
All in all, North Clayton has some rebuilding to do after returning just five players each on offense and defense.
"A lot of key positions need to be replaced," said Hackney.
The toughest losses graduation brought to the Eagles were Emmanuel Dieke, Drew Thompson and Jeremy Ross, who all earned all-region honors in 2008 and will play at the college level next fall.
The Eagles also lost their quarterback when Milton Artiss transferred to Westlake High School for his senior year.
According to Hackney, while a final decision has yet to be made coming out of spring practice, there is a possibility that Winston Williams may take over behind center while still fulfilling free safety duties on defense.
Clarence Jackson will also return to lead North Clayton's running game.
Receiver Kyle Taylor and offensive lineman Torian Box will also provide senior leadership to the offense.
Williams, Colby Brown and Amarlo Herrera are key players who have returned to the defense.
Despite the personnel changes, North Clayton will still make use of the Wing-T offense and 3-5-3 defense that brought a region title to the Eagles.
"We definitely look forward to defending our region championship," said Hackney.