COVINGTON - Not to say that one player can make or break a team, but Demtrius McCray is definitely going to be a big part of the Newton Rams football team this season.
The all-around senior athlete will be an integral part of Newton's offense, defense and special teams.
Besides being the backup quarterback in case sophomore Tyree Williams gets in trouble, McCray will also play wideout on offense, free safety on defense and will be part of the primary punt return team.
Although McCray will be a large part of the team, Newton has a lot of offensive weapons despite its inexperience. Other than McCray, Quinton Pooler is the only other returning offensive starter. These skilled players will allow the Rams to have a different look than they had last season.
"We're more multiple this year as far as backs," Newton coach Nick Collins said. "Last year what hurt us was that we used a lot of two tight-end sets. Neither of our tight ends were in the game for anything but blocking, which means that we only had three playmakers on the field. What we have to do this year is find a way to keep more guys on the field."
Besides Pooler, who was the leading rusher last year, Newton will also have D.J. Hill, Fred Smith, Chris Dickerson, Devaneer Gibson and Akeem Hunt touching the ball.
With a plethora of running backs, Collins plans to show a lot of two- and three-back sets.
"You shouldn't be surprised if you see all of them touch the ball at least once," he said.
The Rams are also stacked heavily at wideout with Deandre Rashada, Devon Mann, Bart Lindsey, Tray Sims and Shaquill Lindsey joining McCray.
Of the new players on the offensive, Collins is most impressed with Ramardo Stewart and Tim Aiken.
"We tried to get Tim to play last year, but he wasn't interested. Now he's a senior, but he is an athletic offensive lineman," Collins said. "With this one year, I think he can go to the next level and play somewhere."
On defense, the Rams return a good deal of experience. Returning from last year's team are Rashada (SS), McCray (FS), Pooler (LB), Hill (LB), Torrian Hunte (DL), Derrick Clark (DL), Justice Ejike (DL) and Brian Forde (DL).
While the Rams will still play multiples of the 4-3, it will have a new look with a new defensive coaching staff.
"I'm really pleased with the defense. I think the changes we made are completely awesome. We have a whole new defensive coaching staff to go along with a new defensive scheme," Collins said. "At least on the defensive side, we've got a little more experience than the offensive side."
The only part of the Rams defense that does not have experience is the secondary with Trevail Hicks and Jaquan Dorsey sharing duties at the corner with Hunt.
While Collins likes the direction his offense and defense are headed, he still has a problem with Newton's special teams.
"I don't know what it is, but these kids don't understand the impact that special teams have," he said. "We've worked special teams all summer. We just hope that changing the scheme a little and having better personnel will give us a chance to be better."
Freshman Cody Sandler will handle the kicking duties, while Hunte will be Newton's punter. Handling the punt returns are McCray and Lindsey. While Smith will be on kickoffs, Hunt will be part of both return squads.
One of Newton's goals is to make it to the playoffs regardless of the fact that it only won one region game last year. That win was against Lithonia, which moved down in reclassification.
"The thing about our region is that anything can happen on any given night," Collins said. "From top to bottom, our region is going to be competitive. But you have to remember that this is high school football. Even the good teams at some point are going to have an off year. We've had teams that have been really, really good for years and this may be one of those years where you see one of those top dogs fall back to three or four or not make the playoffs. You may see a dark horse, a team that people don't give a chance, become a threat."
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
Team: Newton football
Coach: Nick Collins (second season)
Last year's record: 1-9
Key returning players: Demtrius McCray, Quinton Pooler, Deandre Rashada, D.J. Hill, Torrian Hunte, Derrick Clark, Justice Ejike and Brian Forde
First game: Friday vs. Alcovy at Homer Sharp, 7:30 p.m.