One thing anyone who even remotely follows the Newton High football program knows is that the Rams, even now, are in the middle of a quarterback battle.
Junior Neal Howard and transfer senior LT Stowers have been competing since the spring to see who will win the right to receive the snaps full time this season.
But one thing nobody knows right now is which one of those signal callers will be the guy. And Newton coach Terrance Banks is all for keeping it that way.
“Right now we’ve got two guys who are taking the snaps in practice, and they have shown the ability to do the things we’ve asked them to do at the quarterback position,” Banks said. “They’ll continue to compete, and everybody will know who the starter is on Friday August 17 at 7:30 p.m. when the Newton Rams take on the Alcovy Tigers.”
And at least for the two quarterbacks, that’s fine with them. Both Howard and Stowers have taken interesting routes to get to the place where their fates collide with a starting quarterback job for a Class AAAAAAA program on the line.
Howard filled in admirably for senior Myron Middlebrooks who was injured in the first half of the Archer game last season. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound signal caller took on a game manager role in his first meaningful varsity action and almost did enough to help Newton upset the then second-ranked Tigers.
After that game, he settled in the rest of the way and finished the season with 577 passing yards and a 58 percent pass completion rate with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
Howard saved his best 2017 performance for last when he connected on 16 of 24 passes for 170 yards and a score while almost helping lead the Rams to a first round playoff victory against Parkview.
The junior said the 2017 season was a whirlwind, but he’s used it as a launching pad to position himself for a chance to be the season-long starter in 2018.
“That’s definitely the goal,” Howard said. “I worked hard during the offseason to improve my look, physically, just to get bigger and stronger. I also spent lots of time in the film room, watching film and just learning everything that’s happening out there and what that means for me.”
Banks says he was more than pleased with Howard’s development, given the circumstances.
“Neal came in and did everything we asked him to do last year, and we were proud of the way he handled himself and the situation,” Banks said. “Now, he has the chance to go out there and prove he’s the guy. The good thing about Neal is he doesn’t mind the competition.”
Howard’s competition comes in the form of a 6-foot-1,180-pound, strong armed transfer from Mississippi who threw for 1,060 yards and 10 touchdowns for Columbus (Miss.) High School last year as a junior. But he also tossed seven interceptions.
Since being at Newton, Stowers says he’s benefited from the different approach the Rams take to offseason preparation.
“It’s been a bit of a change,” Stowers said. “Here, they’ve got more than just a couple of coaches, and it really is a grind all year round, even in the summer. But it’s definitely made me a better player. I’m learning about the kind of athletes and playmakers I’ve got around me, and it’s just been a good experience.”
Stowers said he’s embraced the competition instead of bristling against it.
“Competing with Neal has been interesting for me,” he said. “I know we both want that opportunity, but I think we also both do what we can to help push each other.”
Howard said he has nothing but good things to say about his competitor-teammate.
“The competing with LT has definitely been positive, and something I haven’t had in a long time in terms of trying to get a starting job,” Howard said. “He helps me get better and I make him better. We’ve got similarities, but we also bring something different to the offense.”
Stowers seems to have the bigger arm and may be a step faster, while Howard benefits from knowing Newton’s offense. He could be the more accurate passer of the two. But no matter which way it goes, Banks said nothing will really change much regarding expectations.
“Like with any position, you’re going to put the person in there who you think gives you the best chance to win in a given situation,” Banks said. “But having two guys who you think can give you that is a pretty good problem to have.”
Returning starters on offense: QB Neal Howard, RB Adarius Thomas, WR Robert Lewis, ATH Jerrol Hines, WR Mike Mathison, OL Kendrick Carlton, OL/TE Devin Durden.
Returning starters on defense: DB Khalil Wilcox, DB Dejuan Brown, LB Cozbi Craig, DE/LB Tyon Bigby.
Key departures: QB Myron Middlebrooks, RB Nuru Tinch, DL Darnell Jefferies, DL Dre Butler, DB Rod Kirkland, KR/DB Elija Godwin.
Key newcomers: QB LT Stowers.
When on offense: Although there’s an ongoing quarterback battle between junior Neal Howard and Mississippi transfer LT Strozier, the basics of Newton’s offense won’t change too much. The Rams still want to spread you out, get their playmakers like Jerrol Hines and Adarius Thomas on the edges and in space and hit you with some zone-read action with plenty of run-pass option. When Newton does pass, receivers Mike Mathison and Robert Lewis are more than capable to stretch the field. Stowers and Howard bring different skill sets behind center, with Howard knowing the offense more intricately and Stowers being, perhaps, more physically gifted with the bigger arm.
When on defense: Newton’s lost a lot defensively, but they return at least one player at each level of the defense. The Rams are multiple, and stress pressure and attacking the football. The defensive line may not be as big as last year’s but being fast and physical at the point of attack will remain a staple. At least in the preseason, the defensive secondary may be the strength with Wilcox and Brown, along with Thomas finding time at corner and players like Tim Newton being a major contributor.
Key Games: 8/17 vs. Alcovy, 8/24 vs. Eastside, 9/14 at Buford, 10/5 at Archer, 10/19 at Grayson
CoachSpeak: “The way that we prepare and the way that we condition ourselves, I think sets us apart. And I think the fact that we’ve got guys bought into the process means a lot. We’ve got guys who are willing to work hard and play hard and come together as a team. That makes a difference.”
8/17: vs. Alcovy, 7:30 p.m. at Sharp Stadium
8/24: vs. Eastside, 7:30 p.m. at Sharp Stadium
9/7: vs. Arabia Mountain, 7:30 p.m.
9/14: at Buford, 7:30 p.m.
9/21: vs. Westlake, 7:30 p.m.
9/28: vs. South Gwinnett, 7:30 p.m.
10/5: at Archer, 7:30 p.m.
10/19: at Grayson, 7:30 p.m.
10/25: vs. Shiloh, 7:30 p.m.
11/2: at Rockdale County, 7:30 p.m.