Healed Hawks prepare for region battle


Hillgrove has a chance to be one of the most improved teams in the state this season. The Hawks come off a 6-5 record, that ended when they were ousted by Camden County 52-17 in the opening round. Injuries hit the team early and then a combination of turnovers and slow starts added to the season’s uphill battle. In Region 4 they were overshadowed by McEachern, Marietta and North Cobb.

McEachern finished 8-0 in the region and North Cobb made it all the way to the semifinals before falling to Lovejoy 63-42 in the shootout. Marietta pulled off a 30-27 upset over powerhouse Lowndes in the opening round. In the final game of the regular season Hillgrove fell 33-30 to McEachern in one of the more exciting games of the season.

Region 4 has well-coached defenses and speed that builds a dangerous slate of offenses. North Cobb broke the Cobb County single season scoring record last year and McEachern consistently passed the 200 yard rushing mark each game. In 2012, head coach Phillip Ironside’s offense averaged nearly 30 points per game in their first year without All-State rusher Kenyan Drake (now at Alabama). Richardre Bagley was set to be the new feature back in 2012, but he broke his leg at the start of the season. Eric Montgomery and Derrick Evans came in and took valuable carries. This year will showcase a healthy Bagley along with Montgomery and Evans funneling out of the backfield.

“I think he [Bagley] is going to be the guy to get us moving next season,” said Ironside.

The quarterback play from Ironside’s son Elijah will be a key factor to the Hawks success this season. Elijah was prepared to start his second season at quarterback last year, but was sidelined with a shoulder injury before the season opener. Senior Troy Thompson filled in and did a great job leading them to the playoffs, but team turnovers were an issue.

“Our main goal this year is to turn the ball over less and Elijah did a great job last year by not throwing any interceptions,” said the elder Ironside.

Elijah came in as relief in several games in 2012, and in his limited action completed 32 of 61 passes for 519 yards and eight touchdowns. The 6-foot-1 quarterback is a dual threat and can take off and scramble at any point. He will have plenty of targets, including four receivers that found the endzone last season.

Omar Black, Justin Denton and Zach Katz are all starting caliber receivers. Evan Engram played a lot of tight end while having the versatility to flex out wide. Engram will now suit up for Ole Miss, but Hillgrove still has the personnel available for creating mismatches with a deep cast of exterior targets.

“It [the depth] helps us because we will play four wide with Zach Katz at the slot,” said Ironside. “This is as deep as we have been at wideout.”

Katz was one of the other Hillgrove players that was injured last year.

Defensively, the Hawks could boast one of the better units in the state. Bradley Chubb is a 6-foot-4 225 hybrid linebacker that has the speed to terrorize the backfield and close off the perimeter. Chubb, who committed to N.C. State in June, was injured against Campbell in the fourth week of the season in 2012. In order for Chubb and the Hawks talented front to apply pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, the young secondary is going to have to be a reliable safety net against the barrage of high-powered offenses on the schedule. Secondary coach Ken Nix has been preparing his young corps for this role.

“We have two starters returning this year,” said Nix. “We lost one to Mississippi State and one to East Carolina. If they [the secondary] can learn what we are trying to do and match what our front is doing, I think we’ll be fine,” said Nix. “They’ve [the secondary] got a big role to fill and they know the front seven is going to be working just as hard as they are. If we do our job and the front continues doing theirs, then we will be just fine.”

Hillgrove opens with Westlake and then plays Walton in the East vs. West Showdown at McEachern. Walton and Hillgrove scrimmaged eachother before the 2012 season, but have never faced in the regular season.


Class AAAAAA Preseason Top 10

1. Norcross

2. Colquitt County

3. North Gwinnett

4. McEachern

5. Lowndes

6. North Cobb

7. Mill Creek

8. Walton

9. Lovejoy

10. Peachtree Ridge


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