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BANNER YEAR: A look back on the top 10 sports stories of 2018
LAdy Rams
Five of the Newton Lady Rams' six seniors, from left, Takiya Cotton, Jurnee Smith, Erianna Card, Tamaya Freeman and Lexii Chatman were integral parts of the squad's first state championship game appearance in 46 years. - photo by Jason Mussell | The Covington News

As 2018 comes to a close, and we publish our last weekend edition of The Covington News of the year, it’s customary for us to take a look back At the year that was before taking a step into the year that shall be. 

And what a year it was in sports, particularly in our Newton County context. 

We had record-setting performances, big-time signings and championship runs. We watched our student-athletes push themselves to their limits and we saw, once again, several examples of how communities can use sports as a rallying point to help us see again how our love, care and concern for one other can and should trump any differences we have. 

There were a lot of cool moments in 2018, and our sports staff whittled them down to provide you what we believed where the 10 most eye-catching headlines of the year. 

1. Newton girls’ basketball state championship run. From about February through April, we felt like our sports coverage lives were consumed with high school basketball — specifically, what was happening at Newton. And even more specifically, what was taking place with the Newton Lady Rams. Coach Tiffani Johnson and her senior-laden squad finally cracked the code to a Region 8-AAAAAAA championship, and parlayed that into a state championship game appearance for the first time in 46 years. In so doing, an entire community was galvanized into an amazing show of support for the team. Newton came up short against top-ranked Westlake, but what the Lady Rams accomplished in 2018 won’t soon be forgotten. 

Newton Lady Rams
The Newton Lady Rams came together in a special way during the 2017-18 season, coming close to winning a state championship and succeeding in bringing a community together. - Sydney Chacon

2. Eastside football — the whole season. Eastside hasn’t been “bad” as a football team or program in well over a decade, so even though this year’s team knew it had to plug in holes from significant graduation losses, we had no reason to believe the Eagles would take many — if any — steps back. What we didn’t count on, however, is how many steps forward they took. First region championship in nine years. First ever Newton County football team to go undefeated in a regular season. Throw in some pretty special and awesome tributes to Eastside alum and Covington Police Department officer Matt Cooper who was injured in the line of duty, and this season will be etched in many memories for years to come.

Matt Cooper
The Eastside Eagles football team locked arms with local law enforcement as it marched onto the field before Thursday's Region 4-AAAA contest with Luella. It was the climactic part of the pregame festivities designed to show support to injured Covington Police Department officer Matt Cooper. - photo by Sydney Chacon

3. Ashton Hagans signs with Kentucky. This was the other reason why we had basketball coming out of our ears this past winter and spring. Our staff had the privilege of tracking the junior season exploits and recruitment of the nation’s No. 1 high school point guard. We followed Hagans’ journey from committing to, and recommitting from, UGA, to leading the Newton Rams to the Class AAAAAAA Final Four to breaking the story of Hagans’ commitment to Kentucky and his subsequent quest to graduate high school a year early to join the Wildcats program this summer. 

Ashton Hagans UK

4. The year of football coaching changes. It’s been a long time since there’s been a more newsworthy year in Newton County football when it comes to football coaching changes than 2018. In the 2018 season alone, we saw the promotion and dismissal of Damoio’n Wright as Alcovy’s offensive coordinator. Then in early November, the resignation of Newton football coach Terrance Banks and the resignation of Alcovy football coach, Chris Edgar about a month later. Then, right before the winter break began we saw Newton promote Camiel Grant from assistant head coach to interim head with the removal of that interim tag just last week. Alcovy’s on the clock now as it expects to name a head football coach before the end of January.

5. Covington connection in Athens. It was fun to watch the growth of Covington products Eric Stokes (Eastside) and Jeremiah Holloman (Newton) over the year as Georgia Bulldogs. They went from redshirt players and scout team members when Georgia won the SEC in 2017 and almost won a national title during the first week of 2018 to being major contributors to a squad that came just short of another SEC crown and College Football Playoff berth. Based on how they’ve grown and matured, we should hear announcers calling their names with increasing regularity over the next couple of years.

JJ Holloman
Georgia wideout, Jeremiah Holloman made a big impact for the Bulldogs' offense his sophomore year. -photo by Brett Fowler

6. The emergence of Far East Talent. In an effort to increase awareness and visibility of the high school football talent in Newton County and surrounding areas, The Covington News launched a East Metro Atlanta football media day — the first of its kind in the area. We highlighted teams from Newton, Rockdale and Walton counties and shone a bright light on what was creatively dubbed “Far East Talent.” We’re already making plans to make the 2019 Football Media Day bigger and better — and a tad shorter. 

7. Elija Godwin’s Junior Olympics run. There was another Newton County product making a run at collegiate stardom at Georgia, but not for football. Newton’s Elija Godwin committed and signed a track scholarship to UGA, but before arriving in Athens, he made his mark by making the USA’s Junior Olympics squad. After finishing third place in a Junior Olympics trial in June, he qualified to compete with the USA squad in Finland. He’ll be a name worth watching, both on the collegiate and national track scene, over the next few years.

Elija Godwin
Newton's Elija Godwin qualified for the USA National Junior Olympics team this past year. - photo by Sydney Chacon

8. LaMarius Benson’s last minute switch up. Rarely is there a ton of last-minute, hat-switching type drama for National Signing Day around these parts, but former Eastside lineman, LaMarius Benson gave us a little after he pushed back on a long-standing South Carolina commitment and made a decision just a couple of days before signing day to sign with UCF. At the time, the Knights were fresh off an undefeated season and bowl win against Auburn. UCF went undefeated again for the second straight season, and Benson could figure into the plans when 2019 comes around. 

9. Former Rams doing it big on the hardwood. It hasn’t just been about Ashton Hagans when it comes to former Newton Rams basketball players making noise in college. JD Notae was the ASUN Conference Freshman of the Year last season with Jacksonville. Isaiah Miller was named to the SoCon All-Freshman Team with UNC-Greensboro and is proving himself as a valuable sixth man in his sophomore season. But those are just three of almost a dozen former Rams finding college hoops success. Watch for our feature story on their progress in next week’s edition.

Lamarius Benson could find his way onto the field for UCF next season. - photo by Gabriel Stovall

10. Social Circle as “Title Town?” People tend to place a ton of weight on championships won in sports such as football and basketball. But Social Circle showed itself as a sort of title town by grabbing three state championships in the 2018 year. The Redskins’ wrestling teams won dual and traditional Class AA state championships for the fourth straight year, while the Social Circle Lady Redskins claimed their first ever softball state championship in Columbus just a couple of short months ago.