Eastside’s three-year run has been extraordinary.
Entering 2019 fresh off back-to-back seasons in which the Blazers were routed by Southwood in the sectional, outsiders wondered how long the program would go without success in the postseason. After all, Eastside had not amassed a single playoff title from its first year of football in 1985 to then.
But over the last three seasons, Coach Todd Mason’s philosophy in building a program that annually can compete for league and postseason championships has come to fruition. A pair of sectional crowns and a regional championship last year have been the highlights – with the Class of 2022 having a big part in the run.
That class – headlined by quarterback Laban Davis – is gone. So how does Mason make sure that his program continues to project upwards?
To be sure, the void left by Davis’ graduation is gigantic. He was the face of Eastside football and arguably the best player to ever play for the Blazers.
Those are big shoes to fill, ones senior Carsen Jacobs steps into. Moving from wide receiver, Jacobs will lead the offense – at least part of the time. Junior Wyatt Davis will also see action behind center, with Mason saying that there will be different packages for each.
But don’t expect to see Eastside all of a sudden become a pass-first squad. This is still an offense predicated on the rushing attack. Davis and his 2,195 rushing yards are gone, but seniors Dax Holman (868 yards, 14 TDs) and Briar Munsey are back, along with several others ready to step up.
Wide receiver is a position in flux. Senior Dakota Reed will be a player to watch at tight end, while classmates Kyle Yoder and Thadden Feichter will also be relied upon at wideout. Sophomore EJ Miller is someone to keep an eye on, while Jacobs and Davis, whichever one isn’t playing QB, will be available on the outside as well.
The offensive line is in better shape, headlined by juniors Dane Sebert and Joey Eck.
“Offensively, we return three out of five linemen with Dax returning at running back,” Mason said. “We are going to have to quickly develop at the QB position and rely on our big guys up front to move the line of scrimmage.”
Defensively, the Blazers are in better shape, returning six of seven outside-the-box players and two of four in the secondary. Four of the top five leading tacklers are back – headlined by the aforementioned Reed (88 tackles, nine TFL, three sacks).
The interior of the defense has more to replace. Kyler Bibbee, Gavin Wallace, Isaiah Fuentes and the defensive back trio of Johnny Eck, Dylan Bredemeyer and Tanner Wicker were all key pieces to this team’s recent run and now need to be replaced.
“We are going to have to mature very quickly in the secondary and rely on our front seven early in the season to control the game.”
With a 33-6 record over the past three years, including a pair of victories over Bishop Luers in the playoffs, Eastside has proven it is one of the most complete teams in the area in the lower classes. While there were some big personnel losses due to graduation, there are proven pieces returning and confidence that with the program Mason has built, new faces are ready to step in and produce.
Can this group develop and be a threat in Sectional 35 once again? That remains to be seen. But the Blazers are still the cream of the crop in the NECC.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
The loss of Laban Davis is huge. He was a generational player, no doubt about it. So many situations the last few years saw Eastside turn to their star QB to make a play, lead by example or say the right things to his teammates in pressure spots.
Who replaces all that? Can it be replaced fully?
Week 2 at Adams Central
A non-conference game as the critical game? Hear us out.
Both teams graduated a very good Class of 2022 and are looking for players to step up. This was a narrow win for the Blazers last year and overall has developed into quite the early-season rivalry.
This matchup will be indicative not only of where each team is, but a great look at the new talent that will need to rise to the occasion on Friday nights for both squads to reach their goals.
For Eastside in particular, how does the new offensive leadership, especially at quarterback, handle the spotlight?
Carsen Jacobs, senior, quarterback/defensive back
While Wyatt Davis will see time behind center, the senior Jacobs is the upperclassman that Coach Mason is looking at to step into the shoes of Laban Davis and perform, not just on the field but as a leader.
As much as this preview has mentioned Davis, the fact of the matter is that he is gone. The offense, and for that matter the entire team, ran through Davis.
For Jacobs, he doesn’t have to put up Davis-like numbers. But what he does need to do is be a dual threat, keep defenses honest and make the right reads.