COVINGTON — The Newton County Recreation Department football 12-under Rams team was a once-in-a-lifetime group. While there have been other football teams that have won championships, no one has done it the way this group did.
“We’ve been watching this team since they were 6 or 7 years old. I coached them when they were 9 and 10 and we went undefeated that year, too. I think we were 12-0 and won two tournaments. They’re a special group of guys,” said head coach Fred Hardeman who has been coaching at the recreation department for 13 years. “When you come across a group of kids that you can put anywhere and the results are pretty much the same, it’s a dream team.”
Not only did the Rams run the gauntlet to win the Georgia Coalition Bowl played at the Georgia Dome, they did it by keeping their opponents down for the count. Of their 16 wins, 14 were shutouts, with as many as four teams quitting before the game officially ended.
“We knew it was going to happen,” said assistant coach Arsenio Nolley. “They kind of huddled up and the parents come on the field, we knew they were going to quit.”
The first time it happened Hardeman had to answer some critics who complained that his players were older than the age requirement. The loudest parents/coaches that complained were from the traveling teams.
“They felt like we were too big and fast. Any time a traveling team gets beat someone is going to complain,” Hardeman said. “But we’re a rec team, we’re not going to cheat.”
One team that Hardeman and the Rams showed how good they were was the Athens Oilers. Before the game, the Oilers were asking where Newton County was as they were trying to put the Rams down for being a “rec team” while the Oilers were a traveling team and therefore had to be better. However, attitudes changed after the Rams won the semifinal game 34-14.
“I bet they know about us now,” Hardeman said.
Of the Rams’ 16 games, they only gave up eight first downs with two coming off penalties. Their defense was so strong that they only allowed one touchdown. The other three touchdowns given up by the Rams came off a fumble, an interception and a kickoff return late in the game when most of the starters were off the field.
“I’ve been coaching for 13 years and have never seen anything like it,” said Hardeman. “It was exciting, shocking and crazy wild the way they fly to the football.”
One problem that this group did not have was communicating and playing the game with an ego, something not common with such a young group of players. According to Nolley, everyone knew their role on the team and they did it well. There was never a problem of kids turning on one another when things were rough or someone messed up. This was a team in every sense of the word.
“This group is very mild tempered,” Nolley said. “You take them out of football and they’re very coachable. They’re a good group all together.”
While there were starters and key players, there was no such thing as insignificant players. At one time or another, different players stepped up their play on the field when needed or on the sideline when a leader had to come through.
Playing on the team were Armon Baker, Robert Black, Mathew Dial, Chavis Franklin, Jaquon Henderson, Jeremiah Holloman, Jamarius Jefferies, DeMarea Johnson, Darvin Jones, Dawson Knowles, Zachary Lee, Christian Mobley, Clarence Nichols, Ja’Naud Notae, Koby Perry, Allen Ruffin, Robert Sease Jr., Eric Stokes, Andre Thomas, Tiaje Thomas and Demetrius Tuggle.
Even though the team had been together for 15 games before the championship game, nothing prepared them for the experience of playing in the Georgia Dome. But nothing, not even queasy stomachs by some players, could stop them from reaching their goal of a championship.
Helping Hardeman and Nolley in the coaching duties were Jameson Brown, Mike Anderson, Mike White, Robert Sease and Derrick Dodson.
Also giving support to the team were Roseanna Jones (team mother) Tommy Hailey (Newton County Recreation Director) and the Newton County Board of Commissioners who provided two vans for the team to take to the Georgia Dome.
“It was exciting from the moment we got there,” Hardeman said. “They were pumped up to be in the (Georgia) Dome. On the kickoff we fumbled the ball, we were so nervous. But we drove the ball all the way and scored on the first possession.”
The Rams were able to overcome their nerves and Gresham Park Rattlers on their way to a 19-0 win.