Barely leading with minutes left in the game, a Newton turnover gave the ball and a chance to take a commanding lead back to Etowah. Again and again Etowah lined up and ran through Newton, eventually scoring two touchdowns in the final minutes of the game, advancing to the final four and sending Newton packing.
It was way too easy. Newton was weak at the point of attack on the defensive line, and the Rams got killed in the trenches. Coming back from that game, Newton head football coach Terrance Banks didn’t have to show his team why the weight room was important. What Banks did do was show them film from the Etowah game.
“When we look at where we were , we look at how we lost to Etowah and we look at what made the difference, it wasn't the things that week that hurt us. We felt like there were things we could’ve did better January to August that would’ve made a difference,” Banks said.
Since the first day of January, the Rams have been hard at work in the weight room. They’ve also been to weight room competitions where Banks says his focus was to show them the gap between them and other schools.
“They were able to see schools like Milton and Coffee and how strong they were and that just kept that fuel to the fire lit,” Banks said.
A budding desire to get stronger hasn’t stopped this summer. Banks says they’re averaging about 70 kids in the weight room. They’ve also been to a number of seven-on-sevens, winning some along the way.
With their success Banks has a new mantra, “Every day we try to go 1-0. That’s our goal.”
Having won some of the seven-on-sevens, Banks added that it really boosts morale for the team, but he also acknowledge they have a long way to go before the season begins.
“It makes the kids feel good,” Banks said. “Anytime you win anything it’s that competitive spirit, you gotta wanna do it. If you don’t wanna compete you’re not playing the right sport. I think anytime the boys can go and compete that’s very important to them and of course winning is what you want to do anytime you do anything.”
The Rams have some notable players who have caught fire in the summer earning a lot of interest from colleges such as senior receiver/defensive back Deandre Huff, junior running back Kurt Taylor Jr. and especially junior defensive end Jaquan Henderson.
“Great kid,” Banks said enthusiastically about Henderson. “Great family background, everybody knows that. The good thing about him – about all of our kids – they’re humble. It’s not going to their heads. Being four-star, winning MVP camps, none of that’s going to his head. He’s still the same kid as he was last year. All he talks about is he wanna sack the quarterback. He’s very ambitious. He said 13 sacks wasn’t enough last year. He’s gotta have 20, he gotta have at least two a game so it’s a different mentality this year.”
Henderson is one of the team leaders, he along with a number of others have been here since Banks started two years ago. In Banks’ first year he started a lot of underclassmen on offense, he says a lot of the kids who are in leadership positions now have started for two years.
“They understand me and they understand what it takes,” Banks said. “They’ve been placed in that fire. When I got here I had good senior leadership. When you see your brothers and see what they’re doing, you understand the road.”
In the spring, Newton went to watch former Ram linebacker Dez Billingslea at Kennesaw State and over the summer they traveled to a team camp at Jacksonville State where they got to see recent graduate Nuka Yobo.
“They understand what it takes to get to that next level, but they also understand where they wanna put Newton High School,” Banks said. “You made the elite eight, so they understand all the work we put in to get to the elite eight. If they want to try to get further they understand how much more they gotta put in and how much more they got to come together.”
The playoffs are no longer a dream, but an expectation. Now, the Rams talk about what they can do now to become a championship team later. The goal for Newton is to go undefeated, but in a modest way. They just want to win the day and the rest will come.
“Kids like Romario [Johnson], Artice Hobbs, Tony Collins, Jaquan Henderson, Jordan Reed, who’s a sophomore, it’s that leadership those five guys are really bringing to the table to say, ‘Hey, man, we’re trying to set that bar here.’ And the good news is, all of my kids have only made the playoffs so that’s the only thing they know. We don’t even talk about making the playoffs anymore...that’s gone. 1-0 everyday until we’re done,” Banks said.
“We know how long we wanna play, but the only way to get there is by going 1-0 everyday. And if we go 1-0 everyday from today, July 16, and we win everyday then December 19 we’ll be where we wanna be,” Banks added. “The boys understand that and we understand that’s the route. We don’t have to talk about it anymore, When I first got here we were talking about making the playoffs, we were talking about playing a home playoff game and we were talking about winning at home.”
Banks is no stranger to strong declarations or promises, but he’s no fool either. He acknowledged that it’s hard to play a full season and an extra half-season, and he says we’ll all see if the work was enough to be that championship team.
“I’m proud of my kids. I’m proud of the boys. I love the boys. I love the work they put in, I love the effort they’ve given. I couldn’t be prouder to say I’m the head football coach at Newton high school,” Banks said.
“We know what we gotta do and we think we know what it takes. We do feel like we’re doing everything to put us in that position. We just gotta take care of business.”