The Eagles, however, only won one playoff game during that time, and they lost a close first-round game to West Forsyth last year. For the upperclassmen on this fall’s team, that provides plenty of motivation going through spring practice.
“I’ve been in a couple of playoff games,” said guard Jake Hassan, a rising senior captain. “I haven’t won them, so it’s time to get back to the playoffs. Hopefully, we can go to the second round — the third round. Hopefully, we can get to the state championship.
“It’s 100-percent motivation for me. I think about it every day.”
On top of the added motivation this spring, Etowah also has a new coach in Dave Svehla.
After Bill Stewart left to become the new coach and athletic director at James Clemens High School in Madison, Ala., Svehla came to Etowah from El Paso-Gridley High School in El Paso, Ill.
With Svehla’s arrival comes a new way of doing things.
Offensively, the Eagles will run out of the I-formation, a stark contrast from the team’s pre-snap appearance from the veer formation in the past. Etowah will throw the ball more often than last year, though Svehla said it will still rely on the ground game.
The defense has many new kinks and quirks to it, but Svehla was more reluctant to label what they were, or say what was different from last year’s defense.
“I’m not going to give too much away,” he said. “I think mostly (the defensive coordinator) has brought in new terminology — a different nomenclature if you will — and some different fundamentals. But, by and large, defensively, to the person in the stands, it probably won’t look a whole lot differently that it did last year when we line up.
“We’re going to vary the fronts a little bit because, if you look the same all of the time, teams will eat us up a little bit.”
With such a transition in schemes, both offensively and defensively, not to mention building a new coaching staff, it’s been a tedious time for Svehla getting all of the new working parts to work together as a well-oiled machine.
“You know the process is always slow when you are putting in brand-new systems on offense and defense,” Svehla said. “And because there was a high turnover in the staff, there are a lot of new coaches here, so we’re just getting used to working together.
“It’s a process, and sometimes the process doesn’t go as quickly as I’d like it to go, but I have to remind myself that we’re starting from zero. I think the kids worked hard and picked up things quick. We’ve put in a fair amount of stuff on both sides of the ball, and I guess we will find out (in today’s spring game) how it looks.”
One thing to look for in the spring game, and leading into the Aug. 31 season opener with Lambert, is a position battle at quarterback.
Rising senior Reeves Johnson is battling with last year’s starter, rising junior John Oliver. Johnson was going to be the starter last year, but suffered a season-ending injury prior to the season, leaving the job open for Oliver to take.
Now, Svehla must determine which quarterback better suits his new offense. He said that he would prefer to make a choice between Johnson and Oliver, rather than use them both when the season starts.
“It’s a competition,” Svehla said. “I’ve sat them both down, and they know it’s a competition. The nice thing from my perspective is that I didn’t come with any preconceived notions. I know that Reeves is a pretty good player, because he was going to be the starter last year. Then, I knew that John ended up starting eight games and developed into a very good player.
“So, I knew that I had two guys with ability at that position, but it was a different system. You’ve got to give them reps and get them pretty close to the same number of reps, which we’ve done this spring.
“I think, at some point I will make a decision, but I’m not sure it’s fair to either guy to make a decision just yet. … At the end of the day, I’m going to have to choose the guy that fits the offense best, knows the offense best, has the best attitude, works the hardest.”
Regardless of which way that decision goes, Etowah will have an experienced line in front of its quarterback, with four of the five offensive linemen slated to start rising seniors, with center Jake Searcy being the lone exception. The unit is led by Hassan, who said he was encouraged by this year’s group.
“This is my third year here,” Hassan said. “It gives me the leadership here I guess. These are my brothers. I love everything about it.
“We’re definitely a lot closer (than last year). No more bickering. No more fighting. Four of us are seniors, so we’ve all played together for 10-12 years.”