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Head of the class
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For the Rams, the motto is simple: Expect to win.

That is the message Newton first-year head coach Nick Collins will try to teach his varsity football team over the next four weeks before welcoming crosstown rival Eastside on August 31.

"It's early," noted Collins, a former Dublin High School assistant head coach. "We've added 30 new players in this week alone, so the transition is still going on."

Although the first official practice started Wednesday, Collins has had the opportunity to watch most of the players during the spring and summer workouts.

"The kids are still learning, but we've got a general idea - we know the direction we want to go," said Collins. "It's just a matter of staying healthy and the kids understanding the new offense, the new defense and the new kicking game."

Collins was officially hired in April to replace Ben Reaves, who led the Rams for nine years and compiled an overall 42-51 record. Earlier this year, Reaves resigned and accepted a coaching position at Putnam.

For Reaves, the dagger in the heart came during the season-opener against Eastside, to which Newton fell, 21-20. It set the table for how things would eventually pan out for the Rams (3-7 overall).

"Well, I've gotten a general feel," said Collins regarding how important the first game of the season will be against Eastside. "We've got to do some things well and do (them) well in a hurry."

At Dublin, Collins and the Irish won its fourth state title in Region 4-AA last year.

"The way you get things accomplished quickly is to get favored locally, and the only way you're going to do that is to beat your crosstown (teams)," said Collins. "If you can't beat Eastside and Alcovy, you're not going to get a whole lot done around here."

The Rams will put on the pads next week, which is when Collins should get a better idea of exactly what he has on the field.

"I've hired a bunch of great coaches whose job is to get us ready to win," said Collins. "So, my expectation is to win every time I walk on the field, and in that same sense, build for the future (by) bringing some young guys up."

To prove just how much Collins wants the Rams to win, he and his staff have poured over countless video tapes (20), dating back the last two years. In addition, they have also watched several middle school games to critique up-and-coming talent.

"We still have some time - we're sifting through a lot right now," said Collins, "and I put a lot of responsibility like that on my assistant coaches."

Alongside the rookie head coach is a revised 12-man coaching staff that assists with everything from fundraising to special teams. But not all of the coaches are new to Newton County. Despite all the revisions, Sean Cahill, Perry Haymore and Billy Roper are still among the program.

Since Cahill was already familiar with the offensive system, Collins added him to the staff. And there was no need for Roper - who is the defensive coordinator - to step aside because there wasn't a change needed.

"I was really impressed," said Collins regarding Roper. "When I watched (the) film, I knew they could play defense here; I had no doubt about it. So, it was just one of those situations where there was no sense in making a change."

Collins promoted Haymore to assistant head coach based on his dedication to the Rams. Prior to the promotion, Haymore held the longest tenure as a coach with the Newton football program.

"He's invaluable," said Collins. "Because of the things he's able to do here, you just can't go out and hire someone to replace him."

Despite a lengthy process filled with many interviews and debate, determining the rest of his coaching staff came naturally for Collins - he wanted coaches who could immediately resurrect a winning program.

"I think I hired guys who knew what I wanted," said Collins.

Collins admitted that after wanting to be a head coach for so long, he had already devised a long list of coaches he anticipated by his side once given the opportunity. However, this level of thinking evaporated after giving it some more thought.

"It wasn't a matter of hiring my friends," said Collins. "I had to find guys who were good people, good teachers and fit the character and fit the scheme of what we're trying to do, because we don't just teach football."

Originally, Collins had wanted to keep all of the former assistant coaches.

"The thing about high school coaching is you have to match coaching slots with jobs," said Collins. "If you can keep all the existing guys here, it's easy to do. But we weren't able to do that. There were guys who were very, very loyal to Ben Reaves, and when Ben left several guys went with him.

"And other guys got opportunities, too, so we had to fill the staff," added Collins.

Tim Hurson, offensive coordinator, came along with Collins; however, they are the only coaches from Dublin.

"We didn't run this system at Dublin," said Collins, "but Tim is such a smart offensive football coach (that) it didn't take much for him to adapt what we did at Dublin to fit this offense."

Without divulging too much information, Collins said that his team will run multiple formations this year.

"I had a blueprint and handed it to my coaches, telling them there (it) is, make it work. We were able to create a package (so) that we could get our best athletes the football in a variety of ways. But it's still a competition."

For example, Newton lost a major portion of its offense, particularly at the running back position.

"I can't tell you right now how much difference there is at that (position)," said Collins. "We're excited because we're deep at that position - two seniors, a sophomore and two dynamic freshmen. It's just a matter of finding the ways to be successful and getting the balls to them."

Another change that Collins hopes to enact is the overall style of Newton football, especially on the defensive end.

"We want people to be excited about watching us play defense," said Collins. "And then there's the emphasis that we're going to put on the kicking game - I don't want anyone to be better than us at the kicking game."

Other changes have come by way of raising money through fundraisers for the purchase of new uniforms and outdated equipment. Since Newton County does not provide funding for athletics - and Newton High School can only provide a limited amount - the only money the Rams generate is through gate revenue.

With the help from his coaching staff, Collins got rid of the old equipment and raised money to purchase new equipment and other needs by holding a fundraiser, to which they raised approximately $6,000. (Previously, Christian Amos, who is the strength and conditioning coach, helped raise $9,000 in just seven days.) In addition, they went door-to-door and revamped the booster club to generate more donations.

"All (of) those things have gone hand-in-hand to help the program," said Collins.

But the biggest change for Collins is not being around his family. His wife, Monica, is originally from Dublin, as is her entire side of the family.

"The biggest adjustment is coming here and not having that family support - that grouping - right there around you," admitted Collins. "That's probably been the biggest thing."

Before he was at Dublin, Collins spent two years as the linebackers coach at Northside High School. Prior to that, he spent one year as the running backs coach and junior varsity head coach at Jefferson County High School.

Earlier in his career, Collins spent three years at Middle Georgia College, serving as administrative assistant to the head coach, as well as several other positions.

Collins is a 1988 graduate of Liberty-Eyla High School in Texarkana, Texas. He is also a '96 and '98 graduate of Prairie View A&M University, where he earned both a B.S. in Health and Human Performance and a Masters in Education.

Based on his experience, it's evident Collins is ready to turn the Newton football program around; however, there are other concerns besides winning that currently surround him.

"Expecting too much too soon," said Collins after a long pause. "My wife is quick to remind me that Rome wasn't built in a day."

The other concern is getting the community to buy in to what he is doing.

"My biggest disappointment so far is the lack of support from the local business industry, and getting those people to understand that we can't field a team without money," admitted Collins.

But perhaps after the Rams win some games they will begin to earn the trust from the general public.

"I can understand the local situation," said Collins, "and (three high schools) banging on your door for money. Plus, you've got every other program, too - there's only so much you can do. But like I tell our coaches all the time: Winning is your biggest fundraiser, and it holds true wherever you go."

Despite the difficulties in raising money for the team and a major emphasis on the new coaching staff, there is much more to simply having a good football team.

"It's not just about football," said Collins. "I've asked everyone to take a part creating excitement in the school among our kids. I've asked for the band to do some things for us on (game) night and I've asked the cheerleaders to do some things for us on (game) night. I want everyone to take part and change the overall style of the way we play football here."

And Collins does not stop there because he understands the importance of having a successful program.

"What people don't understand is (that) this thing is a three-headed monster," acknowledged Collins. "The band plays a very vital role and sometimes can make or break you. If you're not on the same page with your band (then) it can be more of a hindrance than a help.

"The cheerleaders play a vital role," added Collins, "and there are times where their support is that little something you need to put you over the top. And it's not just on (game) night; it's everything we do generally - fundraising, spirit in the school, the whole bit. So, you have to incorporate the band and the cheerleaders - you have to. And that gets the young people in our school excited about what we're doing."

Collins is encouraging everyone to attend the annual Blue and White scrimmage at 1 p.m. on August 11 at Newton High School. The cost of attendance is one box of laundry detergent, so the team will have enough soap to wash their uniforms throughout the season. (It costs the team approximately $4,000 per year for laundry detergent.)

Look for more on Collins and the Rams in a special section of The Covington News due out August 29, which includes the 2007 Football Preview showcasing Alcovy, Eastside and Newton.