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Posted: September 20, 2012 10:03 p.m.

Rams take on tradition

It's been two weeks since Newton last stepped under the lights of a Friday night football game, and the Rams have spent each of those days hard at work.

The most needed of that work, though, has been to heal as Newton has been playing through several key injuries, including a starting running back and offensive linemen, including the center.

Those injuries have helped lead to shutouts in each of Newton's first two games, a 32-0 loss to Eastside and 31-0 loss at Lowndes, as the Rams look to avoid a third Friday at Valdosta.

The Rams will be both helped and hurt in their cause to improve their offensive play Friday, starting with the return of offensive lineman to better health.

"We're going to get a couple of kids back (and others just haven't been playing at 100 percent)," Newton coach Cortez Allen said. "We can't afford to sit back and make excuses, we have to have our kids step up."

Among those stepping up has been James Hardeman, who gets his biggest chance of the season at Bazemore-Hyder Stadium Friday. With starting running back Darius Dean out with an injury, Hardeman has been getting more playing time at the position each week, and will now be trusted with the starting role.

"He's shown us an explosiveness that we have not seen in our running backs," Allen said. "This week will be his debut as the starting back."

The 6-foot, 215-pound running back will bring a powerful frame and solid speed to the position, transferring to running back from outside linebacker.

"We're really excited about the way he's playing right now," Allen said. "He's going to play a little less snaps on defense and focus much more on offense."

Along with getting players back closer to 100-percent health and giving Hardeman more playing time, Newton will also try to provide a boost to its offense with a slight shift in the way its offensive line plays. Over the bye week the Rams have tweaked the way its line does things, going from more of a zone game to a little more of a power-running attack.While the Rams are working toward finally getting on the scoreboard, trying to keep them from getting going will not only be Valdosta, but also all that comes with it.

The Wildcats are the nation's most winningest high school football program, playing in front of up to 11,000 fans in a college-worthy stadium.

"They know that Valdosta is a storied program in the state of Georgia," Allen said. "This summer when we went over the names on the schedule we constantly talked to them about getting ready for the Valdosta and Lowndes games."

The Rams may have lost in their last outing, at Lowndes, but held the state's fourth-ranked team to its fewest point total of the year, and got used to playing in front of larger South Georgia crowds.

"The kids played like I've never seen them play before with their intensity level," Allen said. "We're at a point where we understand all victories this season won't necessarily show up in the win-loss column."

 

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