2007 Newton Rams Looking for the right stuff
Rams hoping to rebound from overall 3-7 record
In 2006, the Newton Rams won 30 percent of their games, ending the season with an overall 3-7 record. In addition, the Rams won just one Region 2-AAAAA game in seven contests. That was then, this is now. Earlier this year, Nick Collins — a former assistant coach from Dublin High School — was introduced as Newton’s newest head football coach, replacing Ben Reaves after nine years at the helm. (Reaves accepted a head coaching position at Putnam.)
“It was what our family and I was looking for,” said Collins. “We had a couple of opportunities last year, but with the level of football being 5A it gave me an opportunity to get back to that level where I started in high school.”
Collins served as the assistant head coach and coach’s linebackers for the Irish. Last season, Dublin won its fourth state title in Region 4-AA.
The type of offense Collins prefers is more of a one-back zone offense admitting that the Rams will use multiple formations.
However, the secret has been out since Collins arrived on the scene: He wants to throw the football 20-25 times per game.
“But we have to be successful when we do it,” said Collins. “Right now we’re not very good at throwing the football. That’s a goal we’re probably not going to reach early on.”
Richard Schulz was the starting quarterback last year. Despite having a sub-standard performance — although part of the blame could be the play calling and wide receivers — Schulz ended his senior year against Union Grove with a solid delivery (12 of 20 passing for 121 yards and one touchdown).
Upon taking over the program, Collins confirmed that the primary concern was at the quarterback position. And after watching a lot of game footage and evaluating many players, he narrowed it down to two passers, with another three not far behind.
More than likely Josh Cloer will step into the starting quarterback role, primarily because he is the only experienced athlete at the position. Next in line is Demetrius McCray, a transfer from South Carolina who also plays basketball for the Rams.
Should Cloer or McCray not work out, other options include sophomore Fred McKracklin, including two talented freshmen, Kenny Patrick and Tyree Williams.
“Fred is probably our most stable quarterback,” said Collins. “He gets the job done.”
But the Rams did most of their damage — when they did during those rare moments — by running the football, opting for the ground attack as opposed to the aerial assault.
Due to graduation, the Rams lost 18 seniors last year, including eight starters. Moreover, Newton had a turnover of approximately 30 players on the varsity level this summer. In some cases, underclassmen stepped up, or transferred.
Perhaps the biggest loss came at the running back position, where Rod Belcher excelled for the Rams.
Belcher, who signed a football scholarship with Wittenberg University back in May, recorded a large chunk of offense for the Rams last year — 180 rushing attempts for 1,175 yards and 11 touchdowns. In addition, he accounted for 58.4 percent of Newton’s overall offensive scoring last season.
So, it’s ironic — yet true — when Collins says they are deepest at the running back slot.
“That’s a position we’ll be set at for years,” acknowledged Collins.
Senior James Lampley will be Newton’s number one option. After that, the list goes on, ranging from sophomores Kenneth Hixon and Anthony McCall to freshmen Chris Dickerson and D.J. Hill.
“Anthony has done a really, really good job,” praised Collins. “He’s had some ups and downs, but he’s finally showing some consistency that we know now you can put the football in his hands.”
Collins added that Dickerson had been turning some heads, and that Hixon had been catching some eyes as of late.
“D.J. is going to be a superstar at this level,” said Collins. “He already has the physical build of an older kid, so he’s only going to get bigger, faster and stronger.”
On the defensive end, Newton’s Joe Behrman will be greatly missed. Last year, the starting defensive tackle recorded 103 tackles and eight sacks.
“We probably have more question marks there,” said Collins regarding his defense. “Our secondary is going to be the big thing, especially (senior) Fred Smith and (sophomore) Bart Lindsey. They almost mirror each other in their ability to play.”
Collins is thoroughly convinced that senior Rueben Hatchett is going to be one of Newton’s better defensive backs.
“Safety is a big concern for us,” said Collins. “Right now Michael Kuku is our starting free safety, but he’s getting a lot of push from a freshman (Akeem Hunt), who has a lot of talent. (Hunt) is going to be a special player at this level.”
But the strong safety position is all but wrapped up. College prospect Keagan Marks should bring the thunder with his overall speed and power.
“We’re excited about the guys in the secondary,” remarked Collins.
As far as which group is the strongest, Newton’s linebackers stand at the top.
Senior J.J. Hardge is a physical specimen who is learning a new position and a new scheme. Senior Wesley Shelton can flat run and “hit the way we like it played (up) the middle,” according to Collins.
Junior Quinton Pooler, a transfer from Dublin who was the leading tackler last year on the state championship team, will play weakside linebacker position. Pooler shows exceptional promise — a gifted athlete who brings a lot to the defense.
“Up front we still (have) a lot of questions to answer,” admitted Collins.
Senior Gavin Bowman and sophomore Torrian Hutne are still battling it out for a starting position.
Meanwhile, Collins is still trying to figure out to do with senior Ken Johnson because he can play end just as well as tackle.
Rounding out the defensive line are seniors Brian Forde, Ken Smith and Colby Westbrook.
Regarding the special teams unit, it appears that Matt Veal will be doing most of the kicking, including punting and placekicking.
“Matt has an NFL leg,” praised Collins. “We’ve got some work to do to make him understand when he (can) use it, but he’ll put on a show for you if watch him. He’s unbelievable kicking the football and has a bright future in this sport as a punter.”
Despite having a young and rather inexperienced club, Collins is confident he and his staff have chosen the young men who can handle it.
And so, how are the Rams looking thus far?
“Better than (we) did yesterday,” smiled Collins. “For the most part, I think we’re pretty close to where we want to be.”
Irreplaceable: Newton’s Rod Belcher carries the ball against M. L. King last year. Despite losing Belcher (graduation), the 2007 Rams are loaded at the running back position. In 2006, the Rams posted an overall 3-7 record.