COVINGTON, Ga. — I can’t pinpoint exactly when I first met new Newton head football coach Josh Skelton. I know it was sometime between October and December 2016.
That was during my first year in my former role as sports editor at The Covington News. Back then, Skelton, 34, was Newton’s defensive backs coach. But it didn’t take long to realize that he was more than just that.
Skelton may be one of the state’s foremost high school athletic trainers. He seems to live in the weight room and has carved out a solid reputation for preparing Newton football players for careers at the next level. The Rams produce more than their fair share of major college football-ready athletes, and I know Skelton is largely responsible for that.
One other thing I know about Skelton: There’s probably not a person in Covington right now who loves Newton Rams football more than he does. Nor is there one hungrier to take the Rams to the next level. That said, here are five quick things to consider regarding Newton’s newest head football coach.
1. He’s Newton through and through. One thing the Newton High brass was looking for in a coach was someone who wouldn’t see Covington as “fly over” territory. Newton wanted a coach that would be set and committed for the long haul instead of one who would see the job as a good Class 7A stepping stone to greener pastures. That’s not to say that Skelton won’t one day have bigger aspirations. But it is certainly safe to say that he’s all “N” at Newton simply because he loves the program, the kids, the school and community. That much has been proven over the last 11 years.
2. It’s a home run hire for the athletes — past and present. When Newton principal Shannon Buff announced Skelton as the next program leader Friday morning, she could barely get her words out before the athletes, and others from the student body, erupted with raucous cheering. As aforementioned, Skelton’s been around at Newton for a long time — long enough to get lots of full-throated support both from current and former players alike.
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When news of the resignation of Skelton’s predecessor Camiel Grant, Jr. dropped, many former Newton players took to social media to say that Skelton was the next logical hire. Not only does Skelton easily build great rapport with present and incoming football players. He has fostered long-term relationships with dozens of former players, to the point where some Newton alums populate Skelton’s weight room as much as current players do.
3. It’s another in-house hire for Newton. Nick Collins. Cortez Allen. Terrance Banks. Camiel Grant and now Josh Skelton. What do all these former Newton head coaches have in common? They’ve each been promoted from within to lead the program. Collins finished 10-21 in three seasons, then Allen spent three years at the helm and compiled a 17-14 overall record with one playoff appearance in 2012. He gave way to Banks who stayed at the school for six years, winning a region crown in 2015 before resigning prior to Newton’s playoff game at the end of the 2018 season.
Banks went 38-27 and guided Newton to the playoffs in each year of his tenure, though only the 2015 team advanced beyond the first round. Grant ended his time with a 21-21 mark, missing the postseason just once in 2021. There will likely be some Newton fans who hoped to see an external hire as a change of pace to get this program over the one-and-done playoff hump. But Skelton was, by far, the no-brainer choice for any potential in-house candidate or candidates with ties to the school, especially after former defensive coordinator Spencer Fortson departed for the head job at Alcovy after the 2021 season.
4. How will Skelton’s popularity translate in his new role? You know that old saying: “The second string quarterback is the most popular player on a football team?” Well, that’s sometimes true for coaches too. It’s clear that players past and present, fans and Newton’s administration love Skelton about as much as he loves them. But any assistant-turned-head-coach will tell you it doesn’t take long to feel the shift in weight, responsibility and expectations that comes from being a supporting cast guy to the face of an entire program playing in Georgia’s largest classification. Skelton will certainly work to keep the solid bond with his players, even as they’ll have to get used to him being the guy who calls the shots. It’ll be interesting to see how Skelton’s relationships with the team and coaches evolves with his promotion.
5. Can he lead Newton football from “content” to “contender?” Here’s the elephant in the room: For all that Newton football has accomplished in getting individual players to the highest levels of college football, some may suggest that Newton has underachieved, given the level of talent that’s come through those hallways. The Rams have won no less than four games each year since 2009. Two of the three four-win seasons during that time frame were pandemic years.
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But here’s the flip side: Newton’s only won more than seven games once in that same time span — that was during the 2015 region title campaign with Banks. That team finished 9-3, losing 31-24 to Collins Hill in the second round of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs. Newton’s only double-digit win season in school history came under coach Sam Marra’s watch when that 1987 squad finished 10-3 en route to a region championship and Class AAAA playoff appearance. The program’s only other nine-win season came in 1964 when the Milton McLaney-coached Rams finished 9-2.
For years, the consensus thought has been that Newton is talented enough to be a regular region and state championship contender in Georgia’s top classification. But it’s always been the “little things” that have held them back. Things like penalties, on-field discipline, showing up in the bigger games against teams like Grayson and Parkview. We know Skelton can get them right physically. But all eyes will be on the new coach and his staff to see how they can fix the little things that can transform Newton from good to great.