Former Newton kicker, Christopher Wade, used to listen to his walkman on the sidelines during games so that he wouldn’t be too up or too down when he took the field to kick a field goal or extra point. How much has changed in-between the Rams winning their first (1987) and second (2015) region championships? Not many high school players, if any, know what a walkman is these days.
“What I would do is on the sidelines I’d have my walkman and my headphones on over there listening to some music on the sidelines. That way I wouldn’t feel the roar of the crowd of anything like that,” Wade said. “I’d just kind of stay in my own little zone and every once in awhile I’d look up if it's third down and kind of see where we are on the field. I’d go over and take a couple swings into the net and stand next to coach [Sam] Marra on third down and he’d send me on in.”
In ‘87 Wade kicked the winning 40-yard field goal according to the Covington News’ recap after the game – though most of the players remember it as a much longer kick – to beat Brookwood and help Newton win its first ever region championship.
“That particular kick that won it, I wasn’t nervous because I had all the confidence in the world of those guys up front that I would have plenty of time to take my time and really connect with the ball. I knew in my mind that hold was gonna be absolutely perfect and I had confidence that I had really worked hard that week and had consistent practices. The odds were with me that it would be good,” Wade recalled.
“As it related to me I had the best blockers I’ve ever had in my career...and that goes for college too,” he said.
It’s been 28 years since then and 28 years is a long time. Between 1987 and 2015 a lot has changed. Pagers have morphed into smartphones that respond to the touch of your finger. N.W.A hadn’t even released its debut album, ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ which is the title of the popular biopic that came out in August of this year. And Newton County High School, as they were known by back then before they dropped the ‘County,’ was the only school in Newton county.
There was one constant that did not change during that 28-year stretch, and that was Newton High School winning a region title – at least not until the Rams ran through Rockdale, 42-0 on November 6 of this year, to clinch their first region championship since Wade kicked that memorable field goal.
That 1987 team was special. It was the first of its kind. It was a year of many firsts in ‘87 – the first region (8-AAAA, the largest class at the time) title, Newton became the first non-Clarke County school to win the region, the Rams earned their first win over Clarke Central and their first win over Cedar Shoals in the first year in a newly revamped stadium.
That year saw the Rams finish 10-3 – their most winningest season since the ‘64 9-2 team – including a nine-game winning streak in route to winning the region championship.
That season started with a 20-0 loss to powerhouse Griffin (obviously not much has changed for Griffin) which followed with a 28-7 win over Heritage and a 14-13 loss to Central Gwinnett that turned out to be Newton’s final loss before the Rams began their nine-game winning streak.
“We knew we were pretty good,” Derek Coggin, Newton QB/WR, said. Coggin split time at QB with Ram QB Danny Smith and he also played some wide receiver.
Sam Marra was the head coach of a talented senior-laden Newton team that had two future NFL players in brothers Dale Carter and Jake Reid.
“He was absolutely on fire with running punts back. I think he was probably leading the state on punt returns that year,” Wade said speaking of Carter.
“We had some outstanding talent on that team,” he added.
Reed and Carter went on to play in the NFL, but there were a number of players that had a career in college.
Luther Maloney, a senior first string offensive lineman that year, remembers that the team made a deal with the community that if they would support building a new stadium then the team would bring home a championship.
“We came together and we got it done,” Maloney said proudly.
Homer Sharp Stadium was expanded that year. The current home side, which seated about 750 people at the time, used to be the away side and vice-versa. The current state of the stadium reflects some of the changes that were made.
The end of the regular season was the beginning of a great region playoff run for Newton. Back then, you had the region playoffs to compete in for the region title before the state playoffs began. Clarke Central was in town and they were one of the most dominant teams of that era and Newton had never beaten them. Until they did with a 21-14 victory to jumpstart a historic playoff run.
“The big turning point was when we finally beat Clarke Central, which Newton had never beat in the history of the school. They were still a perennial powerhouse. We ended up beating them and that put us back in play in Brookwood for the region title,” Coggin recalled.
Newton stomped Central Gwinnett 27-0 to set up a rematch of a regular season game where the Ram stopped Brookwood 14-7 on the road.
Wade remembers the scene at Sharp before the championship game was played. “It was absolutely beautiful. It was perfect football weather. It was cool. The leaves had changed and were falling, blowing across the field,” he said.
Coggin remembers that because Newton was the only game in town, they used to shut down Highway 278 while the buses came through and they got a huge following when they started winning.
Newton’s QB Danny Smith ran for over 140 yards in the championship game and they held Brookwood’s QB to less than 50. The Covington News’ recap remembers the game as a number of big plays for Brookwood and Newton sustaining long drives for touchdowns, but it ended in a double overtime victory for Newton holding the Broncos to 20 yards in the two extra frames.
Of all their close wins and impressive feats that season, Maloney remembers, “Winning the championship. A cold November day, it was the Friday night after Thanksgiving and we played Brookwood for the second time that year for the championship and being out there on the field when we kicked the winning field goal.”
“We tried to get something started then and build up a tradition of winning and excellence then and it, for whatever reason, didn’t take,” Maloney said summing up the gap in championships.
“I’ve been crossing my fingers hoping to see the guys pull off another championship,” Wade said.
But now, with Terrance Banks at the helm, Newton hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2011, and next year they’ll be the defending region champs playing with a target on their back. Perhaps the winning tradition in Newton football has just begun, but never forget the ‘87 championship team that started it all.