2007 New­ton Rams Look­ing for the right stuff

Rams hop­ing to re­bound from over­all 3-7 record

The Covington News - - FOOTBALL PREVIEW - By Ja­son Mur­dock

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.”

An­thony Banks/The Cov­ing­ton News

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.

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