COVINGTON, Ga. — When Camiel Grant, Jr. found out that he had, indeed, won the head coaching job for Newton football Thursday afternoon, and that it would soon be time for him address his team for the first time in that role, he responded like a man on a mission, more than one relieved at a long-desired accomplishment.
“Well, I was definitely excited,” Grant said. “But to be honest with you, my first thought went to what did I put on the list of things I need to do in the first 10 days.”
Grant had already been putting in the work at keeping Newton football running at full speed since he was named interim head coach promptly after his predecessor, Terrance Banks resigned after the regular season finale loss to Rockdale.
By virtue of his familiarity with the Newton program and the Covington/Newton County community at large, and because of his 10 total years around the program, Grant had already been viewed by many as the favorite since the process began.
But then came Newton principal Shannon Buff’s official announcement, sent out by email Thursday afternoon.
“We are pleased to announce that coach Camiel Grant has been named the head football coach at Newton High School,” Buff wrote in the statement. “Coach Grant has a wealth of knowledge, experience and wisdom. We are excited about the future of the Newton High School football program.”
After that, Grant knew the ante had been raised significantly, and it was time to start transitioning his thinking from supporting staff to the No. 1 guy — something that he’d actually started doing even through the interview process.
“I definitely didn’t take it for granted at all that I was going to be interviewing with people who already knew me and were familiar with me,” Grant said. “Going into the process, I was very concerned about making sure I had everything in line. I wanted to make sure that I touched every base, because I didn’t want anybody on the committee feeling like I’m walking in assuming that because you guys know me and I’ve been around for a while that it’s gonna be automatic.”
Grant said that it was for that reason that he spent more time preparing for this interview than any other he’d been on.
“I wanted to make sure I treated it as if I was coming in to a group of people who didn’t know me and I didn’t know them,” he said.
Grant was Newton’s choice over what Buff said was “well over 50 candidates” who applied for the job. But beyond the familiarity with the community and program, Newton athletic director, Vincent Byams said that Grant as a coach also checked off all the other important boxes he was looking for to fill that role.
“It could’ve been easier if it were just my decision, but it wasn’t just my decision, because we wanted to make sure we found the right person,” Byams said. “And I know what coach Grant is capable of doing. We do share the same beliefs and goals for our community and for what we want our young men to look like, act like and carry forward with in regards to what football here should look like.”
The committee of eight (not including Byams) which helped sort through resumes and interview final candidates was comprised of an assortment of school faculty, community members, local business owners, parents and other local stakeholders of the program.
“It was a group of people who understood what Newton football is about,” Byams said. “And when it came down to having to narrow it down, the committee decided — and then Dr. Buff and myself did as well as we individually interviewed the smaller number of candidates — that (Grant) was a unanimous choice, hands down, because he solidified what we already knew he could do for our program.”
Although it will be Grant’s first stint as a head coach, he’s got his start serving on the staff at Atlanta’s M.L. King High as offensive coordinator from 2002 through 2007. The ’07 squad made it to the Class AAAAA semifinals. After that, he spent time on Mundy’s Mill’s staff as an assistant head coach and offensive coordinator and was with Cortez Allen upon his arrival to Newton in 2010.
Despite the overwhelming support for Grant’s promotion, the new coach said he doesn’t see such confidence in him as a reason to take on hubris or stick his chest out.
“It doesn’t make me feel like I’m superior to other candidates,” Grant said. “It just means that at this particular time, I’m the one they felt like was best. It doesn’t mean I’m better than anyone else, necessarily. I always try to keep that perspective because you still have to put the work in.”
For Grant, part of that work will be reinvigorating a culture at Newton that sort of soured a bit in the last couple of years, culminating with the Rams finishing the 2018 campaign with a 4-7 mark that included a lopsided loss to West Forsyth in the first round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs.
That was Grant’s first and last game of the season as interim coach, following Banks’ resignation.
Banks’ six-year tenure saw a good share of football progress at Newton, as he helped spur on the school’s longest consecutive playoff appearance streak, which included winning just the school’s second region championship (2015).
Banks also oversaw a program that sent more than 40 players to the college ranks, including several like wide receiver Jeremiah Holloman (Georgia) and DBs Toyus Avery (West Virginia) and Steve Montac (South Carolina) who have starred at the Power Five level.
The Rams finished the 2018 season with a 4-7 mark which included a loss to West Forsyth in the first round of the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs. Grant was in charge of the team from the sidelines for that game.
During his interim period, he’s kept working to help seniors through the recruiting process and to prepare for January’s winter conditioning period, in the even he would be asked to continue on.
And now that he will officially spearhead the task of helping Newton take the next step as a football program, he said the first tasks will go further and deeper than just what shows up on the football field.
“First, I feel like we should be the gold standard in the building,” he said. “And our kids should set the standard for what a Newton athlete looks like around the school. From the way they excel in the classroom, the way the practice and play and the way they show themselves in the community. I want teachers, administrators and other coaches to measure their kids next to ours. And then I want the same thing from a coaching standpoint.
“I want our coaches, myself included, to be a model for others to look at when it’s time to bring other teachers and staff into the building. I want us to be in the forefront of leading Newton High School before we even talk about playing football.”
But that doesn’t mean the football has to suffer in the process. On the contrary, Grant said he wants the product on the field to mirror the standards off of it.
“From a football standpoint, we have to be fundamentally sound,” he said. “We need to get back to the fundamentals. Last year we didn’t block well and we didn’t tackle well, so at this point, we’re stripping down everything, even the things we believe in and know work. We’re going to examine those things, because over the long haul, what I want is Newton football to be the standard for football in this area.”
One particular initiative Grant said he’s excited about is increasing the program’s presence in the community.
“That’s not from the standpoint of always asking for something,” he said. “I want to be in the community asking them what can we do, what can we be involved in and how can we be visible? Because I think it’s important for our kids to understand how to serve. And all those things, in my opinion, lead to you winning football games. You have good coaches coaching kids up, but the kids have to be good people who have good character.”
Byams said seeing those intangibles Grant displayed from a prospective coach were even more important to the hiring process than anything directly related to the Xs and Os of football.
“We wanted to build young men who are gonna take care of their family first,” Byams said. “God first, then their family and community. That’s something I think we’ve kind of lost a little bit. We want to get back to a place where it’s seen as a privilege for these young men to be a part of Newton football. We want it to matter when you walk outside of our building and you’re wearing a hat with that “N” on it.
“We have a rich, rich, rich tradition here, and just as a winning program, but as a winning community, and we definitely think coach Grant is going to bring that back to us.”