2017-2018 NEWTON COUNTY
FOOTBALL PREVIEW A SPECIAL PUBLICATION BY THE COVINGTON NEWS
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Page 6 – Sports Editor’s Sound Off
Page 7 – Intro to The Covington News Sports Staff
Page 10 – The Covington News Super Six
Page 16 – A look at Eastside Football Page 20 – The Emergence of Darnell Jefferies
Page 29 – Middle School Standouts Page 30 – UGA Preview Page 32 – Georgia Tech Preview Page 34 – Cover Contest Finalists Page 36 – Private School Digest
Newton senior excited for Naval Academy Back in mid-June, Newton senior safety Jaison Taylor made a decision that, in his eyes, was more than just about football. Taylor committed to play for the Naval Academy. “One day I just woke up and said that I want to be different,” Taylor said at the time of his commitment. “I want to go fight for my country.” He said he was inspired by his dad, Edgar, who, himself, served in the Navy. He’s the second Newton Ram to pledge his services to one of our nation’s military schools. Robert Black, IV signed a letter of intent to Air Force this past February during National Signing Day.
Page 12 – A look at Alcovy Football
Taylor ready to serve GABRIEL STOVALL firstname.lastname@example.org
Page 8 – Preseason All-County Team
Page 24 – A look at Newton Football
Taylor, a 6-foot, 180 pound defensive back, had close to a dozen offers at the time of his commitment – including one from Army. He carries a 3.4 grade point average and says he has dreams of being an orthopedic surgeon after football. He acknowledges that he’s got “a lot of career options” at his disposal, which is why his commitment to Navy was one that made sense for him holistically speaking. “Coach (Terrance) Banks said to make a 40-year decision with my college choice, instead of just a four-year decision,” Taylor said. “I believe I can get that at Navy. They play good football and have a really strong brotherhood. I want to be a part of that, serve my country and win some football games as a bonus.”
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Jai ais issoon on, You are my greatest accomplishment. Being your mother has been the greatest joy of my life and the biggest responsibility that I’ve ever had. I am so proud of the young man that you have become and look forward to seeing you walk into your destiny as you follow God’s plan for your life and exercise your God-given talents and gift fts. Stay in prayer. Stay focused. Keep grinding in classroom and on the football field. Be good to others. Do good for others. Keep your goals and dreams at forefront of your mind. Walk through them as you go about life. Your decision to commit to U.S. Naval Academy is one that makes me proud. You already embody the character of an Off fficer and a Gentleman. Stay the course. God has his hands upon you. Walk into the F.O.G. Favor of God. You make your Dad & me very proud to be your parents. We love you.
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The Covington News Sports Staff & Contributors
Jason D. Mussell | The Covington News
Labor of love
GABRIEL STOVALL Sports Editor
ANTHONY BANKS Sports Photographer
TYLER WILLIAMS Sports Writer
TAYLOR ROBINS Sports Writer
Our passion for sports is brought to fruition Some work is just straight up labor. And then there’s my work. When you get the opportunity to make a living telling the stories of some of the best, brightest and gifted student-athletes in all of Georgia, you don’t just call it labor. You call it a labor of love. Now don’t get me wrong. Putting together The Covington News 2017-18 Football Preview was no easy task. Especially when we got down to the last couple of weeks, and even more, the last couple of days. It was an early morning, late night grind with hot summer afternoons in the sun sandwiched in between. But one thing I can say without question: It was worth it. The opportunity my sports staff and I had to chronicle the fruits of offseason preparation for our county’s football programs was definitely worth it. We had fun. We got the chance to know our sports community a little better, and I believe we also became better journalists because of it. We hope you enjoy it. We wanted it to be a first-of-its-kind sports publication for our newspaper and this community, and I believe we accomplished that. We also wanted to provide you with a comprehensive look at football in our local context, touching on everything from middle school athletes to private schools, college and even highlighting some of our Newton County citizens who are actively playing in the NFL. That said, we couldn’t jam everything we wanted to say into this 40 page magazine, but we definitely wanted to hit the highlights of the sport in our community, and hit it hard. So, our Sunday August 13 sports section in The
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NewtoN CouNty ReCReatioN CommissioN Covington News will feature a place where each of our teams’ rosters – from middle school to high school, including private schools – will be printed. We’ll also include a glance at the football progress at Social Circle High School, and an extended look at our middle school football scene. Also, remember that you can find all of our football preview content, both magazine and newspaper, at our website, www.covnews.com, under the sports tab I want to give a special and personal thanks to every business in our community who advertised with us, as well as the advertising staff
at The News, my sports staff and our editorial team, as well as our General Manager, Hosanna Fletcher. And, as always, special thanks to you, our readers. Without you, none of this would be possible. Enjoy the Preview, and tell us how we can do it better next year! Gabriel Stovall is the award-winning sports editor for The Covington News. He’s covered high school and collegiate sports in Georgia for over eight years, and in Newton County since October 2016.
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Our All-County picks GABRIEL STOVALL email@example.com
Let the debate begin. The sports staff of The Covington News spent several days pouring over film, last year’s stats and performances and observations from offseason progress to pull together our first Preseason All Newton County Football team. Take a look, and let’s see how many of these names garner postseason accolades come December! QB – Myron Middlebrooks, Sr., Newton RB – Taylor Carter, Jr., Eastside RB – Nuru Tinch, Sr., Newton WR – Tyrese Peacock, Sr., Newton WR –Darius Bowens, Sr., Alcovy WR –Jamari Brown, Jr., Eastside OL -Lamarius Benson, Sr., Eastside OL – Lewis Naza, Sr., Newton OL – Jaron Autry, Sr., Eastside OL – Devin Durden, Jr., Newton OL — Jordan Reed, Sr., Newton ATH– Quendrelin Hammonds, Jr., Alcovy K/P – Jose Ramos, Jr., Alcovy Defense DL – Darnell Jefferies, Sr., Newton DL – Spurgeon Gaither, Jr., Eastside DL- Rico Ruffin, Sr., Eastside DL – Billy Tollison, Sr., Alcovy LB – Craig Cozbi, Jr., Newton LB – Jaylon Lackey, Sr., Eastside LB – Logan Wyatt, Jr., Alcovy DB– Jaison Taylor, Sr., Newton DB– Elija Godwin, Sr., Newton DB– Khalil Wilcox, Sr., Newton DB– Demetrius Tuggle, Sr. Alcovy
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Newton quarterback Myron Middlebrooks and running back Adarius Thomas have both made big strides since the 2016 season.
6 top recruits in ‘17 GABRIEL STOVALL firstname.lastname@example.org
The state of Georgia consistently produces some of the top high school football talent in the nation, and Newton County certainly has its fair share. Here are arguably the six top recruits in our area coming into the 2017 season according to the latest 247Sports.com rankings. 1. Darnell Jefferies (Ranked No. 42 in Georgia) Jefferies committed to Clemson over the summer, choosing the national champion Tigers over 25 other offers, including Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia and Georgia Tech. That doesn’t mean schools won’t still try to woo The 6-foot-3, 275 pound 3-star prospect. Jefferies will benefit from being “the guy” on Newton’s defensive line, but expect to see him showcase other talents on the field as well this year. 2. Elija Godwin (Ranked No. 84 in Georgia) Lately the 6-foot, 190 pound defensive back has been burning up the track as a defending state track and field champion in several events. He spent most of his summer trying to qualify for the Junior Olympics. Still, he has seven offers including Ball State, Central Michigan, Citadel, Miami-Ohio and Virginia. Aside from his speed, Division I schools are starting to take note of the safety’s football IQ and nose for the ball. 3. Lamarius Benson (Ranked No. 145 in Georgia) Committed to South Carolina, the 6-foot-3, 330 pound, four-star prospect says he has not and will not backdown from his commitment to South Carolina, despite other schools and recruiting coaches still doing their best to draw him away. Benson should have a huge year as the focal point of both Eastside’s defensive and offensive lines. 4. Nuru Tinch (Ranked No. 179 in Georgia) Tinch committed to UAB late last month. He held several Division I offers from the likes of Ball State, Central Michigan and Troy, although interest from Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and
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Despite being pledged to South Carolina, Eastside DT/OL LaMarius Benson is still one of the most sought after prospects in Georgia.
Tennessee was increasing. If this young man stays healthy, watch his star rise. Tinch says he’s healed from a pesky high ankle injury. At 5-foot-11, 212 pounds, he’s a physical specimen at running back, and shows a lot of the tools that people look for in big time running back prospects. 5. Quindrelin Hammonds The do-it-all “slash” player from Alcovy just picked up his first Division I offer from Army on the last day of July. He’ll play anything on offense from quarterback to receiver to tailback.
He’s versatile enough to star on the opposite side of the ball as well. 6. Adrian and Andrae Robinson The Alcovy twins are only sophomores, but Tigers head coach Chris Edgar corroborates the notion that their blips on the recruiting radar grow each time college coaches get a look at them. They starred early as freshman running backs in 2016. With a year of strength and conditioning, as well as maturity, the brothers Robinson are inching closer to a breakout year.
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The Alcovy offensive line has gained ground during an intense summer of strength and conditioning work.
STRENGTH IN THE TRENCHES
AHS o-line could pave the way to playoff berth
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Picture this. It’s third and two and the offense desperately needs a first down to get rolling. The ball is snapped and the opposing team sends both middle linebackers to blitz, bringing a total of six players slicing through five worn down offensive linemen. Outmanned and outgunned, the offensive line gets overpowered, allowing the defense to blow up a run play in the backfield. This was a direct representation of what Alcovy faced when it took on Newton in the spring game back in late May. And it signaled a recurring problem the Tigers have been facing for a while now. But Tigers’ head coach Chris Edgar, now in his second season at the helm, will stop short of calling the offensive line a team weakness. “I wouldn’t say that they are the Achilles heel to the team,” said Edgar. “They are hard-working kids, but we’re not blessed with the size as some of the other schools.” To make up for this, Edgar’s offense features a lot of angle blocking – a collection of pulling guards and down blocks, depending on the play – while the line works to play more aggressively.
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“We only had about a week and a half of practice before the spring game, but Newton manhandled us. There’s no excuse,” he said. “But now we’ve had over two months this summer to focus on things. We’ve done a lot of film work, a lot of footwork, and other things to get where we need to be.” Edgar also noted that as the team progressed through the summer, the offensive line has become more cohesive as a group. One key to this chemistry was bringing in a new offensive line coach in Damoio’n Wright. “Wright is a passionate coach,” Edgar said. “He shows that passion to his guys, but he also shows that he genuinely cares about those guys. He kind of reminds me of myself when I was a young, passionate, hungry line coach. The guys are responding to him and are stepping up.” Not only did Edgar work with the team on schematics and emotional play, but he also wanted the line to get stronger. Three of the top 10 lifters on the team come from the offensive line group that looks to use their strength to make up for the size difference. With an already loaded skill position group on offense, adding in a solid offensive line to make the big athletic plays happen could be just what Alcovy needs to be an explosive offensive team that could make noise in the Class AAAAAA playoffs. And come Friday, Edgar thinks the improved offensive line will be more than prepared when the Tigers host Duluth in the 2017 season opener. “I really think they’ll be ready,” said Edgar.
Since his summer arrival, offensive line coach Damoio’n Wright has worked to help the Tigers’ offensive line add more punch at the point of contact.
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TWIN AMBITION Alcovy’s Robinson brothers ready to take next steps GABRIEL STOVALL firstname.lastname@example.org
When Andrae Robinson stepped onto the field against Region 3-AAAAAA foe Evans last October, he was well within striking distance of gaining 300 rushing yards in his freshman year at Alcovy. The fact was not lost on his twin brother, Adrian — partly because Andrae — the self-proclaimed “quiet brother” made sure Adrian knew about it. That night against Evans, Andrae had just 30 carries for 11 yards in a 52-0 loss, but it was enough to push him past 300 yards for the season. And when he did it, it sparked something in Adrian. “Like, I felt like I’ve gotta top that,” Adrian said. “When he said he got 300 yards, I was injured, and I said I’ve gotta hurry up and come back so I can get 300 too.” It didn’t happen for Adrian. He was nursing a pulled hamstring that kept him sidelined for virtually all of region play. But the whole episode between the brothers showed the kind of competitive fire Alcovy head coach Chris Edgar believes can make the Robinson brothers elite. “They’ve got all the tools,” Edgar said. “Physically, they’ve got everything they need to be that kind of player. Every time we get off the bus when we go to camps and things like that, the college scouts are identifying them and pulling them over.” Indeed, the twins showed off flashes of brilliance while helping Alcovy to a 4-6 season after going just 2-19 in the previous two years combined. Andrae finished the season with 336 rushing yards and three scores, while Adrian clocked in with 286 yards and four touchdowns.
Gabriel Stovall | The Covington News
After a solid year as freshman starters, Alcovy coach Chris Edgar is looking for leadership maturity out of his standout twin sophomores.
Both started strong out the gates with 100-yard performances in Alcovy’s opener against Duluth. But the pair also felt the rigors of varsity football in a high classification catch up to their fresh-outof-eighth grade bodies down the stretch of the season. “They definitely started strong,” Edgar said. “But I think they wore down a bit as this level of football started to catch up to them.” No worries, though. Both twins say they’ve spent as much time as possible trying to get better in the offseason for just that reason. “From last year to this year, I realized you can’t take any reps off or any plays off,” Andrae said. “So I tried to get every rep in the weight room and every rep on the field this offseason because I know how much it means between winning and losing.” For Adrian, now with a fully
healed hamstring, he wants to allow the bitterness of barely missing the playoffs to fuel his maturation process. “Missing the playoffs left a bad taste in my mouth, because being that close and not making it makes you see you could’ve done more on the field or in the weight room to be prepared,” Adrian said. “I missed most of the region with injury, so all of that really made me hungry to do more this year.” Such a mentality is music to Edgar’s ears, as it echoes everything he said he wants to see from the duo. “As I’ve said, they’ve got the physical tools,” Edgar said. “But I want to see the maturation. I want to see them not be afraid to get out there on the field, despite their youth, and be the leaders I know they can be. They’re such competitors, and everyone on the team, no matter what grade, can learn from
that if they set that example.” Both Robinson brothers say that’s exactly what they want to do, so as to help Alcovy make history, and to etch their names in the cornerstone of the program’s rebuilding process. “When future players ask about me, I want them to say I was coachable, willing to do what they asked,” Adrian said. “I don’t want coaches to say, ‘You don’t wanna be like him.’ I want them to say, ‘He did what he was supposed to do in the classroom and otherwise, and he succeeded that way.” Same for Andrae. “Before I leave this program, I wanna be known as one of the most well coached athletes on the field,” Andrae said. “I want them to say I was good in the classroom and did whatever I was asked. I just want to be known as one of the best players to come through this school.”
RUNDOWN Returning Starters on offense – Junior QB Cameron Anderson, WR Jairus Anthony, C Courtney McCoy, RB Adrian Robinson, RB Andre Robinson, ATH Quindrelin Hammonds. Returning starters on defense – SS Trey Smith, CB Demetrius Tuggle, CB Bryson Wilcox. Key departures – OL Zion Dorsett (Transfer), Cameron Schadl, Austin Davy, Kyrese Knox, Koby Perry. Key Newcomers – DE Jalen Banks, ATH Dee Fanning, OG Marcus Perdomo, DE/T Gavin Fletcher, LB Logan Wyatt. When on offense: Alcovy’s offensive game plan is simple: Take advantage of their skill position speed and create mismatches on the outside that can create big, momentum building plays. What it’s offensive line lacks in size, it wants to make up for it in quickness. Speed will be the Tigers’ calling card to success.
When on defense: The Tigers are looking to bring the pressure from a lot of different angles. “Whether it’s from linebackers, or safeties, or the guys up front, we’re going to try to confuse the opposing offenses,” said head coach Chris Edgar. When on special teams: Look for kicker Jose Ramos to be a weapon. During offseason work, he’s regularly nailed field goals from as far as 40 yards out. Also, speedy returners like Hammonds and Tuggle will look to generate some big, field flipping plays in the return game that could set the up the Tigers’ offense for in good field position. Key Games: Obviously the September 1 game against in-county rival, Eastside is circled on the calendar. But Edgar considers the whole second half of the season as key. “Our entire region schedule are key games,” said Edgar “We didn’t win a region game last season, so we want to correct that for sure this year.”
Our goal is to make the playoffs. The team is working hard and conditioning to get us to that point. I want to see leadership and maturity in key areas and among some of our standout players. I think we have the ability to definitely make a postseason run.”
- Chris Edgar
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Eagles want to avoid repeat of injury plagued 2016 season TAYLOR ROBINS email@example.com
After an injury filled season last year, Eastside football is ready to tackle a fresh start in August. “We had a really good summer,” said Eastside head football coach Troy Hoff, now entering his third year. “We got a lot of good work in. I’m very pleased with where we’re at now.” Hoff has no special theme for this year’s season. However, he teaches his players to be “11 Strong”. “We talk about being 11 strong, and that’s every player on the field and the 11 different aspects of our program,” he said. “And different units where, if we want to compete at a high level, then every game and every week and every practice we have to be at that 11 strong capacity. That’s been a major focus for us and that won’t change. It’s not just this year’s theme. It’ll always be.” Last year the Eagles finished third in Region 4-AAAA, with a 7-3-1 overall record. Eastside lost a total of 25 seniors last year. Ten of those seniors have gone on to play various college sports, two of which will continue to play football. “You know it’s disappointing in the fact that we played really good football (last season) but we had a lot of guys that weren’t able to fin-
Gabriel Stovall | The Covington News
Running back Tyon Davis, right, is part of a formidable three-pronged tailback attack for the Eagles.
ish the season because of injuries,” said Hoff. “You’re always disappointed in wins and losses, but disappointed that some of those kids didn’t get the opportunity to finish
what they started. They went to work every week and played really good football.” Some Eagles that will be continuing the Eastside football
legacy as 2017 returners include: Brayden Harper (Quarterback), LaMarius Benson (Offensive Lineman), Jamari Brown (Receiver), Taylor Carter (Running
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back) and Gaither Spurgeon (Defensive Tackle). Also aiding the Eagles, specifically Carter, will be the entrance of Rockdale transfers, Tyon Davis and Jordan Rogers. Their addition could give Eastside a potentially lethal, three-pronged running attack. Harper, who is a two-year All-Region receiver will try his hand at starting quarterback this year. Brown will also be starting at a new position this year. Carter, a junior, is also all region.Benson is already committed to South Carolina. “(Benson is) who we’ll build our offensive line around,” said Hoff. “He’s probably one of the best offensive linemen I’ve ever coached.” The Eagles will scrimmage Walnut Grove on August 11. The regular season and home opener will be against Luella on August 19. Hoff says the team has goals of winning a championship, but says they are also not looking too far ahead beyond the kind of work it will take to become that kind of team. They will take the season game by game. “I’ve got a good staff that’s been working hard all summer and season and we’re looking forward to getting back on the field,” he said. “I think that’s the big thing when you get to this time of year, it’s so close and the kids are ready for the weather to cool down. It’s that time of year.”
Tyler Williams | The Covington News
Eastside head coach Troy Hoff says expectations don’t change for the Eagles, despite losing 25 seniors to graduation last year.
ers will contribute in big ways. “All of the starting receivers, Jalon Lackey, Jamari Brown, and Jerry Mays, are athletes that are capable of making big plays,” he said. “I’m just trying to get the ball into one of their hands and let them do what they do.” As far as a season goal goes, Harper is looking for his team to make it past the first round of the
playoffs, a feat the team hasn’t accomplished since Harper’s freshman year in 2014. “I know we are very capable of doing it,” he said. The experience in Harper and the competitive edge he possesses should carry well in game time situations, and if he lives up to his above average attributes, Eastside will not have missed a beat at the quarterback position.
Our philosophy hasn’t changed. I expect for us to compete, to get to game 11, and to enter the playoffs as a number one or two seed so that we host the opening round. The expectations don’t change for us.”
- Troy Hoff
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RUNDOWN Returning Starters: OL/DL Lamarius Benson (SR), WR/DB Jamari Brown (JR), RB/DB Taylor Carter (JR), OL/DL Spurgeon Gaither (SR), QB Brayden Harper (SR), LB Jaylon Lackey (SR), LB Rico Ruffin (SR). Key Departures: Eric Stokes, Austin Holloway, Josh Sims, Garrett Stevens, Davin Griffieth, Caleb Allen. Key Newcomers: Transfers- RB Tyon Davis (SR) and RB Jordan Rogers (JR). When On Offense: Eastside possesses explosive athletes all over the field, including two-time All-Region wide receiver turned quarterback, Brayden Harper. Its spread option attack is spearheaded by a talented trio of running backs. When On Defense: Defensive Coordinator Nathan Ogle will look to keep opposing offenses on their heels by employing multiple defensive fronts. With an athletic linebacker corps led by seniors Rico Ruffin and Jaylon Lackey as
well as South Carolina commit Lamarius Benson holding it down in the trenches, defensive versatility shouldn’t be an issue for Eastside. When On Special Teams: Expect the explosive playmaking junior Jamari Brown to handle most of the return duties. Key Games: 8/19: Luella @ Eastside: Always good for a young team to start off with a win. 8/25: Eastside @ Newton: Eastside vs. Newton is an absolute rivalry in every sense of the word. The all time series between the two teams is deadlocked at 6-6-1 after last year’s game ended in a 41-41 tie. 9/23: Oconee County @ Eastside: Oconee will be looking to salvage a heartbreaking loss in last year’s matchup. 10/13: Eastside @ Woodward Academy: One of the key region games for Eastside that can be a barometer matchup for the Eagles.
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Eastside senior Brayden Harper has found the transition from all-region wideout to starting quarterback to be fairly seamless.
READY AND WILLING Senior Brayden Harper prepares to take the reigns as Eastside’s quarteback TYLER WILLIAMS firstname.lastname@example.org
For the past three and a half seasons, the Eastside offense was held down confidently by now former quarterback, Austin Holloway. Although not the tallest quarterback, his ability to recognize pressure in the pocket and extend plays as well as delivering passes with pin point accuracy made him one of the school’s, and the county’s all-time
greatest. Now, Holloway is gone, but Eastside has an advantage of already knowing who his replacement is, and it is someone all too familiar with Holloway and the offense. Senior quarterback Brayden Harper is entering his final season as an Eagle, but despite just now taking over the starting QB role, he was on the other side of a Holloway pass many times in years prior as an All-Region receiver, and one of
his go-to guys. However, the transition from receiver back into quarterback is one Harper isn’t having much of a problem doing. “Quarterback is not really a foreign position to me,” he said. “I played it all through middle and my freshman year, so this summer has just been mainly getting me back and acclimated into the position again.” It’s an offensive and team lead-
ership role that Harper said he felt good taking on as well. “I enjoy the challenges that come with it,” he said. “As far as leadership goes, I’m just trying to do the best I can to help get the team ready when we hit the field August 19th.” Despite taking the snaps in Eastside’s fast-paced no-huddle offense, his transition takes a veteran away from a receiving corps that also lost top receiver Josh Sims, but Harper believes his corps of starting receiv-
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Whether its success on the football field, in the classroom or as an entreprenuer, Newton’s Darnell Jefferies is starting to come into his own.
‘BIG BABY’ GROWS UP
Newton’s star DT coming into his own on and off the field GABRIEL STOVALL
arnell Jefferies isn’t the type of guy to dwell too long on negatives. You can tell it in the way he talks, in the way he answers questions about his difficulties and challenges — particularly the toughest moment in his young football career. It came during his sophomore year. Second game of his sophomore year, at that. Jefferies, who began at Alcovy, transferred to Peachtree Ridge with hopes of advancing his football career on the front end of his high school tenure. A block down on the back of his knee put a quick and painful halt to all that. “It was against Archer,” Jefferies said. “I ended up tearing my MCL and meniscus. It would take five to six months to come back from it.” He said it very matter of factly. He didn’t suggest that it was a dirty play. Perhaps it didn’t even matter. All he knew was that, even at the low point of his career, he was already looking up. “At that moment when it happened, I didn’t even know it,” Jefferies said. “I was just like, ‘My knee is hurting.’” Then, almost as if he caught himself dwelling too long on the negative, Jefferies raised his voice a bit and quickly shared his mindset in that moment. “But as soon as I found out how bad my knee was hurt, I just told my coaches that I’d come back and be stronger than ever,” he said. (Continued on page 22)
(Continued from page 20)
A Double Comeback Jefferies’ sophomore season was a complete wash. But during recovery and rehab time, he also experienced a personal revival. He wanted to come back home. Home for him is Covington and Newton County. He played middle school ball here. He started showing early signs of his potential as a freshman, when even despite his size, he didn’t look his age. In fact, it’s how he got his name. “Big Baby,” he said. “That’s my nickname I got as a freshman. When I came into high school I was big, but I was still a little baby as a freshman. I still had that baby fat on me.” Over the years, that baby fat has turned into a 6-foot-3, 280 pound defensive tackle phenom that got attention from virtually every college football blue blood program in the country. Ironically, the bulk of that attention didn’t come until he came back to Newton. He entered his junior year with lots of interest, and officially burst onto the recruiting scene with a monster junior campaign, but didn’t get his first offers until the spring. First it was Georgia Tech. Then Georgia. Then they just kept on rolling in. “It feels good,” Jefferies said at the time of his first offer. “It feels like all my hard work is paying off.” He said it while sitting in the Newton High gym while waiting for the nationally ranked boys basketball team to take the court. He looked comfortable. He looked at home as he lightheartedly joked around with fellow classmates. Now, Jefferies acknowledges that this is exactly where he wants to be to finish his high school career. “I’m very humbled and blessed to be able to stay at one school for a second straight year now, and to be able to finish my career with the Newton Rams,” he said. “I just want to help this team out as much as I can and be a better player for me, but for them first.” All About the Team Since being at Newton, head football coach Terrance Banks has learned to get familiar with the whole concept of dealing with star athletes. He’s seen his fair share in his
Newton’s Darnell Jefferies started the offseason with no offers. He now has over two dozen.
four years at the school. Guys like quarterback Romario Johnson, DeAndre Huff, Kurt Taylor and J.J. Holloman. “I didn’t understand what my other coaching colleagues were saying about dealing with those high caliber type players, until I came here and it happened to me,” Banks said. “It’s different. You’ve got media and newspapers and college coaches around, and it tends to pull the kid away from the team. And sometimes it kind of separate the player from the team.” That’s not how it was with Darnell, though. “The thing about Darnell is he has all those things coming at him, but he never let it stop him from being about his team,” Banks said. “For him, it’s all about that name across his chest, and even more, the brothers next to him who he plays with and for.” Jefferies looks natural while sauntering around the sidelines with his teammates, laughing or talking seriously about the action on the field. Even during Newton’s spring game against Alcovy, when the defensive line coach from
We’re not playing around like we used to. We’re very focused on the mission of the team. And as for me, I just want to do the best I can do. And that’s doing my one-eleven. Doing my job and making sure we all do the same.” - Darnell Jefferies Clemson was on hand, looking to close the deal on a Jefferies commitment, Jefferies’ stripes didn’t change. He was still the same guy, and if you spend any extended time with him, you know it’s not an act. “I just think I’m a very humble and blessed guy, because God has blessed me with many things,” he said. “I’ve had some challenges, like hurting my knee. That was tough. But I just kept my head focused and prayed every day and night, like my parents told me, and to keep doing what I’m doing.” More Than Just Football Family’s been as big an influence on Jefferies as anything else. It shows when he’s talking about them. “My mom and dad, Woangie
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and Derrick Cooper,” Jefferies said. “They’ve been active like they are since I was little. Since rec ball.” And then there’s Kimberly Dirden, who Darnell affectionately calls, “Mom Two.” “She’s helped me with getting my business off the ground,” he said. Jefferies boasts a 3.52 grade point average, and will major in business marketing at Clemson. The business program there was just as much a reason for his choice of the Tigers as the caliber of football they play. And he’s already begun to show his business acumen. Remember that nickname, ‘Big Baby?’ Well, Jefferies has parlayed his freshman year moniker into the label of his own clothing line. “You know, it’s hard to find clothes in the store for a big guy
like me,” he said. “So I came to coach Dirden and asked if she could help me create my own fashion and clothing line, and she said sure.” Jefferies said his brand has produced t-shirts with his brand name on them and he’s looking to debut his brand’s football gloves when Newton opens the season at home against Drew on Thursday. “It’s not just for big guys, though,” he quickly says. “If you recommend it, I can get anything we have in smaller sizes.” For now, though, Jefferies would love nothing more than be sized for a state championship ring. He’s looking forward to getting to Clemson and “balling out and getting my education.” But while he’s at Newton, there’s unfinished business yet to attend to. “I feel like this year our defense is better than it’s ever been,” he said. “We’re not playing around like we used to. We’re very focused on the mission of the team. And as for me, I just want to do the best I can do. And that’s doing my oneeleven. Doing my job and making sure we all do the same.”
Rams looking for faster, stingier ‘D’
Submitted photo | The Covington News
Michael Mathison is poised for a breakout year at wide receiver for Newton.
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There were times when Newton’s offense had to play pick-me-up for the Rams’ defense in 2016. During the first five games of the season, while Newton’s offense was humming along at a 33-points-pergame clip, the defense gave up a little over 31 points per contest within that same span. Although Newton compiled a record of 3-1-1 during that stretch, their only loss coming by 8 on the road against a Lowndes team which played deep into November and put up 92 points on Hillgrove in a first round playoff matchup, you never would like to see the defense give up that much. With a reloaded offense headed into this season, led once again by Middlebrooks, Banks is also looking to his defense to cash in on opportunities to be great, and it all starts with the identity of being what, “the most physical team on the planet.” “We have honed in on running to the ball and not loafing,” said Banks, “When all 11 converge on the ball, that’s when all the luck and good things happen turnover wise.” Recent Navy defensive back commit Jaison Taylor as well as Clemson defensive line pledge Darnell Jefferies are two of the bigger names on the Rams’ defensive roster. However, 6-foot-2, 270 pound offensive and defensive lineman Jordan Reed will be entering his fourth year as a starter. Reed comes from a prestigious Newton football, lineage as, he’s
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Newton Rams coach Terrance Banks says the strength of his 2017 team could be up front on both sides.
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related to former Minnesota Vikings receiver and Newton grad, Willie ‘Jake’ Reed, as well as former Pro Bowl defensive back and University of Tennessee All-American, Dale Carter. “I think (Reed) will have a massively explosive year along with Darnell (Jefferies),” said Banks, “He’ll be a key anchor to our defense.” Another Newton defender who is primed to burst onto the scene is junior linebacker Cozbi Craig, who Banks refers to as, “the next big defensive stud.” Craig won’t just be playing in a traditional linebacker role, he’ll be tasked with being involved at all three levels of the defense, and his speed versatility allow him to do this well. Banks expects his prototype linebacker to thrive in the same role that former Newton standout Jaquan Henderson dominated in during his career at Newton. “I think he can do a lot of the thing Jaquan did, so we’re very excited about him as well,” said Banks. That’s immaculate praise and expectations considering the success that Henderson had which eventually would land him at Georgia Tech. The Newton program is very excited about the direction of the team heading into this season and they expect great things in all phases of the game. “The intensity level has been taken up a notch as a whole,” said Banks. There’s no doubt that the Newton offense can put up points in a hurry and often times at will, but Newton is looking for the same level of energy and efficiency out of their defense. After all, defense does indeed win championships when it comes down to it.
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BETTER THAN BEFORE
Newton’s Middlebrooks ready to lead ‘physical’ offense in 2017 GABRIEL STOVALL
Gabriel Stovall | The Covington News
Much has been made of the Newton Rams’ front seven strength and speed on defense and girth and power along the offensive line. Just as much as been said about the talented tailback duo of senior running back Nuru Tinch and junior Adarius Thomas. Quietly, but confidently looming in the shadows, however, is senior quarterback Myron Middlebrooks. The 6-foot-3, 195 pounder put up respectable numbers as a first year starter who only played in eight games. Middlebrooks completed 62 percent of his passes while throwing for 1,381 yards and 20 touchdown passes to just five interceptions. Of course, he benefited from having a five-star wide receiver prospect in now-Georgia freshman J.J. Holloman. But Middlebrooks also dealt with some uncertainty as Newton largely employed a running back by committee approach, and was a little green up front. It showed most in Region 8-AAAAAAA play, when Newton went a period of three games, starting with South Gwinnett on September 30, where it scored a combined 12 points and were shutout in two straight games at Archer and Grayson. In some of the toughest struggles offensively, Middlebrooks either missed all or part of the games due to injury. “In three of our losses, Myron Middlebrooks doesn’t play,” Terrance Banks said. “And when he didn’t play, we lost badly. When he’s in the game, our offense is different.” So it must be exciting when Banks looks at Middlebrooks and sees that he’s noticeably bigger, faster and stronger, and is consistently making better decisions with the offense. “He gets freedom now — and he’s earned this — to audible into play that he wants,” Banks
Newton senior quarterback Myron Middlebrooks has grown physically and otherwise since last season.
Hands down, we want to be the most physical team in the state. No, scratch that. We want to be the most physical team on the planet. With no disrespect to the guys who’ll read this, I think this can be our best offensive and defensive line team, and we want to capitalize on that strength.”
- Terrance Banks
said. “He’s become that kind of guy. We don’t want him to stop being him. Running, rolling out and making plays is what makes him a good high school quarterback. But we think he can be even more dangers with a stronger line and running game this year. It can allow him to stay in the pocket a little more.” Middlebrooks will benefit from an offensive line featuring several players standing at 6-foot2 or taller and weighing anywhere between
270 and 330 pounds. Then there’s Tinch who’s a pounder at running back and Thomas who’s more of a jitterbug. When those elements combine, Banks is looking for his signal caller to engineer a pretty potent offense. “He’s able to see the field and make those decisions we ask him to now,” he said. “Last year it was just about running the playbook, but now it’s all about navigating the offense and knowing why he’s doing what he’s doing.”
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Returning Starters: 7 total on offense, including quarterback Myron Middlebrooks, running backs Nuru Tinch and Adarius Thomas and virtually the entire offensive line. On defense, notables like Darnell Jefferies, Jaison Taylor, Cozbi Craig and Elija Godwin. Key Departures: J.J. Holloman, Jaquan Henderson, Deonta Clark, Robert Black, IV, Jeremiah Bundrage and Dante Johnson. When On Offense: Newton will run a variation of a shotgun spread, but with more tools and flexibility at its disposal. That’s because Middlebrooks, a senior, is not only bigger, faster and stronger, but also smarter with a year of starting experience under his belt. Because of that, he’s been given extend play calling responsibilities. A strong rushing game
with Tinch and Thomas running behind what coach Terrance Banks calls, “potentially the best offensive line we’ve had since I’ve been here,” could be punishing. When On Defense: Banks and company will employ a “multiple 50” look that will seek to take advantage of a solid front seven that has potential star power with Jefferies up front. Linebacker Cozbi Craig looks like an emerging star. And the secondary is stacked. Banks wants to attack with that size and speed in order to create multiple turnovers. When On Special Teams: With so much speed on the roster to choose from, the return game will be strong for the Rams. Godwin broke loose several times last season, including a 95 yard kickoff return against rival Eastside.
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Photos by Tyler Williams | The Covington News
Ramon Hernandez is looking to put himself on the map in his last season with the Cardinals.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Cousins Middle School coach Patrick Jones hopes the preseason preparation with his team will help it make another run at the NewRock championship game.
In addition to the Cousins Middle standout, we heard from several other middle school coaches who shared their thoughts on middle school standouts in the county. Cousins Middle: • Beyond Hernandez, there’s lineman James Amos, a 6-foot-2, 265 pounder who’s stronger than typical 8th graders at the point of attack. • RB/WR Dallas Johnson and DB/RB Jatavius Weaver are solid.
tion he mostly played last season during Cousin’s NewRock League runner-up in 2016, while possessing the “speed of a wide receiver,” according to Jones. Hernandez’s athleticism and work ethic helped bring his team to the NewRock championship game, and while they lost to Indian Creek, Jones said Hernandez is working to get back there in his final season as a Cardinal. “Ramon has goals this season to have a bigger impact on the field to help his team win a championship,” Jones said.
While the primary focus for Jones is getting the team back to the title game, he also is looking forward to Ramon growing as a leader, a goal he has been challenging him with on and off the field. Jones is also looking forward to Hernandez’s future after the conclusion of this season. “I believe that if Ramon keeps working hard and improving, that he can do some really special things on the football field one day especially at the high school level,” Jones said. “He’s a very talented young man with a bright future.”
Liberty Middle: • QB Jesus Zuniga is superbly athletic. • Hunter Boyd, Yahir Coronado and Jawaski Gilliard look like next level linemen. • RB Devin Clark will be Liberty’s feature back. • WR Deion Lewis has big-play potential. • DE Armani Russ anchors the D-line. Veterans Memorial: • RB Willie Shepphard, III, WRs William Nash and Nigel St. James give QB Detariuous Clayton talented targets. • LB Tavion Ford, Amari Jackson and Justin Benton are solid and balanced. • DB Quincy White may be the best in the Veterans’ secondary. • DE Duval Hill won top defensive player at a summer MVP Camp. Indian Creek: • New head coach Frank Christian. He’ll have just four returning players from last year’s NewRock title team. But Indian Creek seems to always reload well.
Cousins’ Ramon Hernandez brings strong work ethic, versatility to team TYLER WILLIAMS firstname.lastname@example.org
Often in community sports, the general focus regarding football athletes is geared toward the high school level of play. After all, many of these athletes provide looks into the future of college football, which has become a game with big business implications that almost match that of the NFL. But what about the future of the
high school teams – middle school programs? The future generations of high school players are often overlooked during their middle school years when these players are the next group to potentially turn a high school program’s credibility around. Recently, the trend of taking note of a player’s abilities as early as in middle school has gradually been on the climb, with colleges
even recruiting players before they hit high school now. In many cases it speaks to the fact that quality athletes exist on the field even before they hit Friday night lights. And that theme is no different here in Newton County. One Cousins middle school standout in particular, Ramon Hernandez, has caught the eye of his Cousins head coach Patrick Jones, and could very well catch
the eye of college football recruiters one day. “We started to see potential in Ramon early last season,” Jones said. “He really showed a lot of his versatility in the first game against Memorial last year.” Versatility is a key aspect in Hernandez’s attributes. Not only is he the starting quarterback in which he shows more dual-threat tendencies, but he can also play a power running back role – a posi-
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senior seasons giving the backfield the loaded depth it needs. Tight ends Jeb Blazevich and Isaac Nauta and receivers Terry Godwin and Riley Ridley are back. On the defensive side, senior safety Dominick Sanders and linebacker Lorenzo Carter will lead an experienced unit. Local Flavor With the No. 3 ranked recruiting class in the nation, the team has brought in two five-star and 17 four-star prospects, Georgia’s loaded with young, elite talent. And two of its most gifted incoming freshman hail from Newton County. Newton High grad J.J. Holloman is among them. The 6-foot-2, 195 pound receiver enrolled early in January and showed immediate promise, hauling in three passes for 77 yards and a touchdown in the annual G-Day spring game. Joining him is former Eastside speedster Eric Stokes. The football and track star added 15 pounds to his 6-foot-2 170-pound high school frame, no doubt keeping all his speed in the process.
Photos by Anthony Banks | The Covington News
Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm of Houston County is part of one of the more highly touted incoming freshmen recruiting classes Georgia has seen in a while.
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Road Warriors Georgia’s season will be a test of how the play on the road as their four biggest games against Notre Dame, Tennessee, Florida and Georgia Tech. If Georgia can take three of these four games, barring any losses to teams they should easily defeat, they could be in good shape to represent the east in the SEC Championship in Atlanta.
Georgia freshman and Newton High graduate J.J. Holloman expects to see the field for the Bulldogs this year after an impressive showing in the annual G-Day spring game.
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More than just middle schoolers and high schoolers, the local college football scene will also provide Newton County football fans with incentive to follow the state’s two biggest schools. Both Georgia and Georgia Tech boast a pair of Newton County standouts on their rosters. Here, we hone in just a bit for a snapshot of what Georgia Bulldogs football looks like in 2017. Turning the Corner With a brand new coaches in head coach Kirby Smart, offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, the Georgia Bulldogs 2016 squad
struggled to compete in the SEC with a 4-4 conference record. After a dominating performance on the ground against North Carolina in the opener, Georgia struggled against teams many thought they would rout, before losing its final game of the season to Georgia Tech. With a year of head coaching experience under his belt, and a much ballyhooed 2017 recruiting class, Smart and company will expect obvious progress in 2017. Who Will the Stars Be? This season features a lot of intriguing questions like how Kirby Smart and starting quarterback, Jacob Eason, will fare in their second years. The dynamic running back duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel decided to return for their
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Tech looks to Newton grads for success TYLER WILLIAMS email@example.com
In a competitive ACC Coastal Division, the 2016 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets football team found themselves at an even 4-4 in conference play, but were able to go undefeated in non-conference play, including big wins against hated rival Georgia and Kentucky in the Taxslayer Bowl. Coming Back for More As the 2017 season looms, the young Yellow Jackets team will return seven starters on offense, nine on defense and both specialists. They also return defensive coordinator Ted Roof in his fifth season running a base 4-3 defense, and head coach Paul Johnson in his tenth season controlling a triple option offense that racked up 258 rushing yards and 5.5 yards per carry a game in 2016. Promising speedster Marcus Marshall transferred, but leading rusher Dedrick Mills returns. New Man Under Center However, the team’s biggest departure is former Orange Bowl MVP and veteran quarterback Justin Thomas. According to Paul
Johnson, the QB position currently belongs to Matthew Jordan, but also stated that it’s “his job to lose,” citing other guys are in the mix like Jay Jones, Lucas Johnson, and Chase Martenson. Jones and Johnson were fairly impressive during the spring game, but Jordan benefits from the experience of backing up Thomas. He’ll also benefit from a fairly stout offensive line. Familiar Faces in New Places With the 47th ranked recruiting class in the nation, the Yellow Jackets will bring in one four-star prospect in linebacker Bruce Jordan-Swilling and 21 three-star guys, including former Newton Rams standout Jaquan Henderson who will reunite with his high school teammate Josh Tukes. Henderson said, before leaving for Atlanta, that it was his ambition to find the field from day one. Meanwhile, Tukes, a 6-foot-6 defensive end, spurned several basketball scholarship offers in order to accept preferred walk-on status at Georgia Tech. It’s no coincidence that some of Tech’s biggest 2017 signings came on the defensive side of the ball. The numbers last year were adequate, but Roof is looking for more push at the point of attack and pass rush pursuit.
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Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson looks on at his offense during the Yellow Jackets’ spring football game. Tech will look to break in Matthew Jordan as the starting quarterback to replace Justin Thomas.
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Newton Rams products Josh Tukes, left, and Jaquan Henderson want to make as immediate an impact on the Jackets’ team as possible.
Breaking In the New Digs Tech will kick-off their season against the Tennessee Volunteers in Atlanta, in the new MercedesBenz Stadium on September 4 in the Chick-fil-A kickoff game, in which a victory over a top SEC East school could spell momentum for the Jackets early on. Other key games include a road visit to
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The talk of football talent in Newton County doesn’t just begin and end with middle, high school and college players. Our area boasts a handful of NFL-caliber athletes as well. Here’s a capsulized look at Newton County’s NFL representation for the coming season. Akeem Hunt: As a former Newton Rams and Purdue standout entering his third NFL season, Hunt originally signed as an undrafted free agent (UFA) with the Giants before moving to the Ravens. He was only an offseason member of both teams before moving to his current spot on the Houston Texans roster. Hunt is looking to maintain a roster spot on a loaded Texans offense with a lot of depth at the running back position. Demetrius McCray: A former three-sport star and 2008 New-
Anthony Banks | The Covington News
Former Eastside Eagles star and current New Orleans Saints defensive tackle, Sheldon Rankins is one of four Newton County products currently playing in the NFL.
ton County Athlete of the Year, the Newton High School product and seventh round draft pick out of Appalachian State will be entering his fifth season after spending the first four years of his career with the Jacksonville Jaguars. McCray will now compete for a roster
spot with the Seattle Seahawks as a member of the vaunted “Legion of Boom” defense. Sheldon Rankins: The 6-foot2, 305-pound former Eastside elite defensive tackle and 2016 first round pick is entering his second season with the New Or-
leans Saints. A leg injury derailed a promising rookie season causing him to miss the first half of the season. He would bounce back the next half recording four sacks and 20 tackles. With his leg injury behind him, Rankins is working to make an even bigger impact on a Saints defense looking to take a leap and propel New Orleans into the playoffs in the loaded and highly competitive NFC South. Donte Blackmon: A first team all-region athlete as a defensive back and a wide receiver, the former Eastside High and originally Appalachian State product became the first player in Kennesaw State history to sign with an NFL team inking an undrafted free agent deal with the Indianapolis Colts after attending their rookie minicamp. The 2016 Big South Conference interceptions leader looks to maintain a roster spot and be in a position to contribute in the generally wide open AFC South division.
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ANOTHER GO AT IT Peachtree Academy wants another title run TAYLOR ROBINS firstname.lastname@example.org
Gabriel Stovall| The Covington News
Peachtree Academy football coach David Smith tutors one of his players in between reps during a recent practice.
ith the 2017 football season close, the Peachtree Academy Panthers are gearing up to start their season off in the win column. And the prescription, as far as the Peachtree coaching staff is concerned, is simple. “We just work hard,” said Peachtree Academy head coach David Smith. “Our whole concept for football at Peachtree is ‘You play as a family, you practice as a family’.” Smith is a six-year football coach who has been coaching for the Panthers for three years. The Panthers have been practicing since the end of June, preparing to improve on their last season’s overall record of 10-3. Peachtree Academy belongs to Region GICAA (Georgia Independent Christian Athletic Association)-II (East). Where they play eight man football. Most of the schools from this region, including Peachtree Academy, are private schools, with teams comprised of students who are home schooled. Last year’s season ended when the Panthers fell to Colonial Hills
We probably do what everybody else does. We watch film. (We do) the whole preparation. (We) scout the talent and we make phone calls. We hope to have a successful season this year also.” - David Smith
Christian 34-21 in the GICAA playoffs’ semi-final round. Smith said he appreciates when private schools are highlighted for their achievements in sports. During the summer as the Pan-
thers prepared to make another run at a state championship, Smith held two-hour practices on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Smith fashioned the practice schedule with his athletes being
able to live a balanced life in mind. “A lot of our players are religious bound,” Smith said. “So we put a lot of emphasis on getting done with practice early on Wednesday so they can attend church.” While the team lost four seniors last year, the team broke even when they gained five new freshman this new season. Some players that will be in the starting lineup this year will be: Josh Cursey (Fullback), Hunter Payne (Tailback), Dakota Beckman (Quarterback), and Matt Mitchel (Receiver). Peachtree Academy will travel to John Hancock for their season opener on August 18. The Panthers will also scrimmage against Vidalia Heritage Academy on August 12th. Smith says that they are doing everything possible to get ready for their opponent. “We probably do what everybody else does,” said Smith. “We watch film. (We do) the whole preparation. (We) scout the talent and we make phone calls. We hope to have a successful season this year also.”
NewRock launches football program STAFF REPORTS email@example.com
The NewRock Prep Sports Academy piloted its basketball program last year with great success, and is now looking for the same from head coach Sean Tarrant, as he prepares NewRock’s football team to take the field for the first time later this month. Anthony Ivory, founding athletic director for the prep school that gives student-athletes the semi-equivalent of a “fifth year” of high school, says birthing football was tough, but will be worth it. “It was definitely hard,” Ivory said. “Football is a lot when you’re starting a program. But I have confidence in Coach T, just like I do with Coach (Jonathan) Nelson and our basketball program. I believe we’ll be successful.” Below is the NewRock 2017 football schedule. We’ll have a full team roster in our Sunday Au-
Football is a lot when you’re starting a program. But I have confidence in Coach T...”
- Anthony Ivory
gust 13 edition of The Covington News, and a full feature story on the program in future editions. New Rock Prep Sports Academy 2017 Football Schedule:
Saturday 8/26- Ramah Juno Prep @ New Rock Prep (4 p.m.) Sunday 9/1- New Rock Prep @ Shorter College (JV) (3 p.m.) Sunday 9/10- New Rock Prep @ Gulf Coast Prep (1 p.m.) Sunday 9/17- BYE Thursday 9/21- New Rock Prep @ Maryville College (JV) (6 p.m.) Saturday 9/30- New Rock Prep @ University of Ft. Lauderdale (2 p.m.) Sunday 10/8- New Rock Prep @ Alabama Prep Academy (2:30 p.m.) Saturday 10/14- Gattaca Prep @ New Rock Prep (1 pm) Sunday 10/22- Methodist College (JV) @ New Rock Prep (1:30 pm) Sunday 10/29- Alabama Prep Sports Academy @ New Rock Prep (4:00 pm) Saturday 11/5- North Florida Prep @ New Rock Prep (1:30 pm)
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