COVINGTON — Last year’s 5-6 Rams are going to have a new offensive look with the departure of Cortez Allen and most of his staff as the Terrance Banks era begins.
However, the one thing that will remain the same is Newton’s defense. Even though the Newton defense allowed more than 19 points a game, Banks likes what he saw over the summer.
“The defense is what we consider our strength,” Banks said. “Our defense is where we have a lot of our upperclassman. The one thing you noticed from Newton is that defense played lights out. There hasn’t been a lot of change in that formula.”
Newton’s defense will be led by starting returners linebackers Dez Billingslea and A.J. Palomino, defensive backs Toyus Avery and Robbie Wallace and defensive end Derek Greene.
“I see Billingslea and Wallace run sideline to sideline and make plays. I’m thinking to myself as the play is happening he shouldn’t get there,” Banks said. “On defense our strength is definitely our back seven. For me, this has been the best team speed I’ve ever been on a staff with.”
The one area which creates some concern for Banks on defense is the front four. It’s not that he doesn’t have confidence in them, it’s because of their lack of experience.
“Our main thing on defense is seeing how front four is because if they get pushed off the line it’s not going to make a difference,” Banks said. “They have the athletic ability, it’s about the game experience and staying the proper lanes”
The big difference for Banks’ Rams is going to be with the offense. Not that they plan on being more run or pass oriented then any other Newton team, the difference is how they plan to play the game itself. Rather than putting the most athletic players on field, Newton is playing two separate squads with a dedicated offensive and defensive team.
Banks is implementing this system after seeing it work so successfully in Gwinnett County. A scheme which worked well by Norcross in their win 21-14 win over Lovejoy in the Class AAAAAA championship game.
“I don’t believe you can win any state championship in 6A having to rely heavily on guys going both ways. I go back to the state championship where Lovejoy was up on Norcross and they were able to win just because Lovejoy wore down,” Banks said. “We want to be region champions but we would much rather be a No. 4 seed and confident that all our kids are able to go than a No. 1 seed where if somebody goes down it could all tumble down fast.”
The two dedicated team will be the cornerstone behind Newton’s no-huddle, uptempo-style offense where he plans on running 60 plays per game rather than the 42 the average team runs.
One aspect of Newton’s offense which might be a problem in getting the new system implemented is the lack of experience. Even though the Rams offense is going to be made up of at least eight underclassman, Banks has confidence as they may be young but talented. The youthfulness is going to be shown most with their receivers with only Taylor Hawkins coming back. The most experience is going to be on the offensive line with four of the five linemen having played at least half the season last year.
“Unfortunately our schedule starts off rough so they have to mature early. They’re going to get a lesson in Georgia high school football very quickly with the way our schedule is set up playing four playoff teams and your rival in game one. We have a lot of talent, they’re young,” Banks said.
Newton starts their season against Eastside before going on the road to play Lowndes, Valdosta and Langston Hughes. All four team made it to the playoffs last year.
Battling for the quarterback position are returning starter junior Kemani Pittman and sophomore Ramario Johnson. While Pittman started all 11 games last year, that does not mean that his job is secure.
“I said from day one that all our positions were up for grabs. Both have been working hard but one of them is going to trot out there as a starter on August 30,” Banks said. “That’s one thing I learned at Duluth. The one guy that ended up starting the last five games and who was the leader was not the first or second string guy when we started the first game. We knew we had the tools but he wasn’t ready. Then one day we turned around and threw him in the fire against North Gwinnett and goes 22-for-24. As I told all three quarterbacks, because you go out there on August 30 that doesn’t mean you won’t get a chance.
“Our goals are simple, No. 1 to beat Eastside, No. 2 goal is to win region championship, the No. 3 goal is to win the state championship. The most important goal is to No. 3. If the third is the most important goal, how do you go about doing it? I feel what we’re implementing here for the years to come will help us achieve No. 3.”