Coach James (Bubba) Spears has lost count of the number of people who have come up and asked him about this game.
Hillwood High School’s new coach left East Literature this past spring after one season. On Friday, Spears guides his Toppers against the players he coached and almost guided to the playoffs in the first year the school competed at the varsity level.
The game is at old TPS, East Lit’s home football site until its on-campus stadium is completed. Hillwood is 2-1, while East Lit has opened 2-0.
“As I tell them, I hope East Lit goes 9-1,” said Spears, who coached East Lit for two seasons, including its rise to varsity play in 2009. “The only one I hope they lose is to Hillwood.
“ I loved coaching those kids over there, it was tough to leave. I hope they do great except for one game.”
Last year, East Lit finished 5-5. It just missed the Class 3A playoffs as the 33rd team in a 32-team field, according to a TSSAA announcement the morning after the regular season ended.
“Our kids will pumped up for this game, just as their kids will be,” Spears said. “It should be a good game.”
New East Lit coach Jim Wilson, who coached at Glencliff for 13 years, was fully aware that his players were pointing toward this game.
“The kids are really excited, you can see it and feel it in practice,” Wilson said. “There’s a lot of talk around school about it. It is a little different this week.
“At the same time, we’re not playing Bubba Spears. We’re playing his Hillwood football team, and they are plenty good.”
Two of Wilson’s top runners players are senior tailback Dominique Grimes and junior quarterback Antonio McKissack, both of whom were outstanding players last year under Spears.
“I’ve really liked the development of our team and their ‘never give up’ mindset,” Wilson said. “We were tied with Westmoreland midway through the fourth quarter and drove down and kicked a game-winning field goal (to win 24-21). Against CPA, we were down 14-0 at the seven-minute mark of the first quarter and could have easily given up. But we came back to win that game 34-21.
“I’ve often said, you don’t get a clear or complete picture of your team until about Week 7 or 8. Even though we make some youthful mistakes, I like what I’m seeing so far. We didn’t change a whole lot coming into the season, because what they had last year worked pretty well.”
The game could develop into a clock-possession contes, featuring the running of Grimes (215 yards in two games) and Jasper Howard against going against Hillwood tailback A.J. Hampton, who has a team-high 280 yards rushing.
“For us, it’s overcoming mistakes, avoiding turnovers, plus adjusting to a new system,” Spears said.
For both schools it’s adjusting to a new coach. And For East Lit – more motivation in getting a chance to beat the coach who left them.
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