Eastside alum looks to turn program around

Eastside football QB Holden Johnson and coach Harold Gator Hoskins
Eastside will be led by first-year head coach Harold "Gator" Hoskins (right) and returning quarterback Holden Johnson, who passed for 1,065 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. (Photos by Megan Winslow)

Following the sudden resignation of Eastside football coach Alex DeLeon just before the start of spring football, the Rams were without a head coach and there was uncertainty surrounding the football program following a 3-19 record the past two seasons.

In fact, Eastside hasn’t had a winning season since 2018 when the Rams finished 7-4 and made the Class 5A state playoffs under Cedderick Daniels.

Eastside football Jacquez Whitehead
Photo by Megan Winslow Jacquez Whitehead

But following the hiring of alum Harold “Gator” Hoskins, the Eastside fan base is excited again.

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Hoskins was a two-time all-state quarterback for the Rams. He was responsible for over 3,600 yards and 47 touchdowns during his Eastside career. 

As a collegiate athlete, he played tight end for Marshall University from 2009-2013. He finished his career at Marshall with 99 receptions for 1,318 yards and 28 total touchdowns, the third most in Marshall history.

“Gator” was a childhood name he grew up with. Given to him by his dad, it means a go-getter.

Hoskins is ready to get going.

“I’m extremely excited,” he said. “It feels great to be back at my old high school and kind of give back to the community and give back to the guys. I’m excited.”

There’s one thing that Hoskins remembers most about his playing days at Eastside.

“Winning,” he said. “We had some great coaches, some great guys, some great teammates and we worked really, really, really hard.”

That desire to win has rubbed off on his players.

Eastside football Daniel Fudge
Photo by Megan Winslow Daniel Fudge

“One of the things that I like about him is his dedication to kind of turn this program around because what I think he wants to do is get back to that old Eastside culture where, when he was back here, they were blowing everybody out,” said senior wide receiver Daniel Fudge. “And that’s just the main focus, getting back to what we used to be.”

Sophomore offensive and defensive lineman Jaquez Whitehead (6 foot, 250 pounds) has known Hoskins since middle school.

“My impression of him is like a father figure, a big brother, just a great person overall, a great coach,” said Whitehead, who started seven games on the offensive line last season. “He has great leadership skills. He pushes us every day to work harder. He’s everything you would want in a football coach.”

Senior Micah Hudson (WR, LB, RB) is back for his senior season after rushing for 119 yards and 73 receiving yards, along with 26 tackles.

“It’s a lot of motivation for the guys because they played at Eastside, they wore the same uniforms we wore, and they showed that everybody can do something,” Hudson said of his new head coach.

While Hoskins’ main concern is “turning the guys into better young men” Hoskins said the goal for year one was work.

“If you want to win, if you want to be great, you’ve got to put the work in,” he said.

Hoskins is expecting great things this year based on the athleticism he has seen during the summer.

Eastside football Micah Hudson
Photo by Megan Winslow Micah Hudson

The Rams have a good foundation to start with in senior quarterback Holden Johnson, who will have his third head coach in the past four years.

Johnson said the team became closer when DeLeon stepped down.

“We kind of bonded over the coaching change,” he said. “We were there for each other because it was kind of unexpected for us. So, continuing that relationship with each other, I think that’s a big advantage. I think this coaching staff is the right coaching staff for Eastside.”

Johnson, who threw for 1,065 yards with 10 passing touchdowns last year, has been inspired by his new head coach.

“He’s super motivated to uphold his legacy here at Eastside and that gives us a little extra motivation to continue his legacy he started when he was playing here,” said Johnson, who now has 2,879 career passing yards with 19 passing touchdowns.

Fudge, who caught 16 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown as a junior, has developed some chemistry with his starting quarterback.

“I’ve been with him since middle school now, so I’ve known him for a pretty long time,” Fudge said. “I’ve been watching him develop and It’s pretty nice to watch, I got to say. I’m just watching him get better each day at practice. If it’s at practice, or if it’s off the field, we’re doing something together. It’s nice bond to have with your quarterback.”

The offense, which returns seven starters, is pretty similar to last year with just a couple new concepts here and there that Johnson believes will help the team. He also noted there will be more weapons on the outside than they’ve had in the past.

“Our running backs are running deep and I think our O-line is getting there slowly but surely,” he added.

Eastside football Trevaun Sams
Photo by Megan Winslow Trevaun Sams

Junior Chris Bishop, who was second in the district in rushing yards last season with 524 yards and two touchdowns, gives the Rams some additional experience in the backfield.

Seniors Dabien White and TreVaun Sams, who both started all 10 games last season, will help anchor the lines of scrimmage.

A total of eight starters return on defense.

Junior Jayden Manns, the team’s second leading tackler last season, will be one of the leaders on defense.

“I think our defense is going to be great this year,” Hoskins said. “Just in 7-on-7 those guys are flying around and they’re picking up on the calls.”

Eastside will compete in the 3-team Class 2S-District 7 with Santa Fe (Alachua) and North Marion (Citra).

The Rams will travel to Chiefland for the Kickoff Classic on Aug. 19 and then open the regular season on Friday, Aug. 26, at P.K. Yonge (Gainesville). They get a key test early in the season when they host rival Buchholz in Week 3 of the regular season.

Hoskins noted that for this to be a successful season a few things must happen.

“I don’t think it’s wins or losses, it’s these guys just becoming better young men and buying in and believing in and just trusting the process,” he said.

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