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Newton grapplers have high hopes for 2012-13 season

COVINGTON -- Newton's wrestling team is hoping to head to both Class AAAAAA state meets as area champions with 12 returners from last year's team. However, its task got harder with Rockdale and Lovejoy coming to the area.

"But my biggest worry is Rockdale. Those coaches are great; I respect those guys. Luella should be pretty good," Newton head coach Andre Byrd said. "I want to win region even though it's going to be a tough task with Rockdale. I believe it's going to come down between us and Rockdale in the region championship."

With the Rams losing Jeremy Fuller, who wrestled at 182-pound weight class, and Zach Jenkins, who was at 152, from last year's team, their new leader is four-year starter Jose Rivera at 145. Also helping spearhead Newton's squad are senior Syler Crawford (132) and sophomore A.J. Paolomino (195).

"When it comes to wrestling, A.J. is a winner," Byrd said. He's used to winning on the mat so there's no pressure on him. He did real good for us last year as a freshman. I expect, and he expects, to dominant this year."

Returning for another year are Justin Beasley (106), James Wilson (113), Bernard Benn (120), Kameron Wallace (126), Matt Torres (132), Anthony Bradley (160), Nnamdi Onyekwuluje (170) and Javan Grant (285).

"At the 182 we have (junior) Shaidren Carter; he was pretty good even though he didn't wrestle much varsity," Byrd said. "We don't have a wrestler at 152 yet. It's wide open."

Besides being the top team in the area in both traditional and individual meets, the Rams have other goals in mind as well.

"We had four guys make it to traditional state last year. I want to get at least 10 in there this year. I think it's very possible with our area," Byrd said. "I think we still need to work on conditioning and overall strength. It seems like we beat them but if we add strength and talent we'll be a lot better."

Newton starts their season on Saturday at home in the eight-team Rams Tough Duals.