COVINGTON - The Newton football team showed a lot of improvement from last season, but the Rams still have some room to grow.
On the upside, Newton won three games compared to one last season, finishing 3-7 overall with a 3-5 record in Region 2-AAAAA.
Also, most of the games they lost, with the exception of M.L. King (56-0) and Union Grove (43-10), were close.
"We were eight points from having six wins. I think what we're most pleased with is the fact that we were able to close the gap scoringwise," Newton coach Nick Collins said. "We made ourselves more competitive each night."
The three games that Collins said could have been wins were Alcovy (3-0), Eastside (29-27) and Douglass (18-13).
In his second year as head coach, Collins had the chance to take his team to the Class AAAAA playoffs but the Rams lost the last three games, including against Douglass, which kept them home during postseason play.
"They (players) didn't understand the impact of where we were," Collins said. "It comes from not having been there. I don't think that anyone else around here understood it, either. We didn't get the support from the community that I felt a team in a position to make the playoffs should get. We didn't have people rally around us encouraging our kids to make that last push.
"As coaches, we can only take them so far. I know from being at other places that it's that community push that a lot of times puts you over the hump."
Collins also attributes the losses at the end of the season to a lack of conditioning.
"I think the other issue we had was that we didn't have anything going for us at the end of the year strength-wise," he said. "All the gains we made during the spring and the summer were lost because of our inability to get in the weight room every day. While other teams were either maintaining or getting stronger, you could see week by week that we were getting weaker and weaker."
Quarterback Demetrius McCray led the Rams in rushing with 419 yards on 69 touches, while Quenton Pooler had 270 yards on 72 carries.
"It was an improvement from a year before," Collins said. "A lot of teams had one guy that had that many yards. If you give one guy enough carries, I'm sure he could. But that's not where we want to be.
Newton had 11 different players run the football. Akeem Hunt, Fred Smith and D.J. Hill each carried the ball more than 40 times.
"We were able to come out and do a lot things and use a lot of backs," Collins said. "If you look at our numbers, there's no one guy that jumps out. We didn't have one guy we had to hang our hat on."
While the Rams threw the ball, they did not throw it as often as Collins would have liked. One of the reasons for the low output was because of their lack of experienced receivers.
"We were very young and inexperienced at wideout," he said. "Now, we have some guys that have some experience where we'll be able to get more than one receiver on the field in some of our base sets where we can really expand our ability to throw the football down the field," he said.
On defense, McCray also proved his worth, intercepting seven passes and breaking up seven others.
"At one point, people were questioning me about why am I playing my quarterback on defense," Collins said. "The thing I say to that is this is football and you play your best 11. The guy's a phenomenal safety with a lot of ability. His ability to reach and cover the ground was really important and it showed with some of the wonderful interceptions he had."
Newton finished the season taking the ball away 16 times - 12 interceptions and four fumbles - while turning it over 12 times - six fumbles and six interceptions.
"To be successful, you have to create 20 or more turnovers," Collins said.
"I like the attitude of the defense. I can't say enough about our defensive coordinator, Cortez Allen. We had Cedric English come in, Jonathan Leonard, Chris Ray, Derwin Purnell and a whole new defensive staff. I just can't say enough about what they did to really change the mind-set of the way we played defense."
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.