COVINGTON, Ga. — When Terrance Banks took the reins of the Newton High football program six years ago, he witnessed a bit of a mass exodus.
Outgoing coach Cortez Allen took the offensive and defensive coordinators, the offensive line coach and running backs coach with him to his new gig at M.L. King. That left Banks —a first-time head coach — with just a handful of holdovers: Andre Byrd (currently the head baseball coach), Tony Collins, Everyn Williams.
And a young, fresh-out-of-college kid named Josh Skelton.
Banks recalls Skelton making such an impression on him that, without going through the typical interviews and formalities to measure a coach’s fit, he realized building a new staff without Skelton on it was unwise.
“He came at me almost like, ‘you can’t fire me,’” Banks said. “He may not remember this, but when I took over Newton as a new coach, a lot of the older coaches were leaving, which I totally understand. I would’ve probably been that way too. But he was the kind of person who was always quick to say, ‘Coach, what do you need me to do? What can I do?’ So before I even hired a staff, he worked as though it was already his job.”
During the dead period between Allen’s departure and Banks’ settling in, it was Skelton who was behind the scenes helping keep the program afloat during a pivotal time on the football calendar. Spring ball was just wrapping up, and the kids were transitioning into summer workouts when Allen took his leave.
Skelton helped keep things moving by making sure the weight room and practice fields were still full of athletes working to get better for the 2013 season.
“Back during my first year, we might have had maybe six assistants,” Banks said. “We didn’t have a lot of guys, so everybody had to pull a lot of weight. Josh was already doing the strength and conditioning stuff, and doing defensive back work. During that dead period with Coach Allen leaving, he kind of righted the ship and kept things going.”
Banks’ first year had its fair share of ups and downs. He guided Newton to a 5-6 season and state playoff berth — an identical finish to Allen’s last year with the program.
Since then, Newton hasn’t missed the postseason and the Rams have carved out a reputation for always having a solid stash of college-ready football players — an accomplishment Banks credits to Skelton who eventually would add recruiting coordinator to his list of duties.
“He just kind of took that piece and ran with it,” Banks said. “He’ll set the kids up, get them connected to the coaches, to the camps. He’ll bug the crap out of you, and then when it’s time to finish the deal on a kid’s recruitment, he’ll hand it off to me and then it’s on to the next one. We sort of double-team it in that way.”
Skelton will tell you, however, that the recruiting piece to his job description sort of came by accident — more like being the product of having a chip on his shoulder regarding how folks used to see Newton.
“My goal at first was just to get people connected with coaches,” Skelton said. “It wasn’t even really about offers. I just wanted to get Newton’s name out there, you know? When I first got here and we started going to camps and all that, people were like, ‘Newton? Where’s that at?’”
But in recent seasons with players like former four-star prospect and Georgia sophomore receiver JJ Holloman, three-star lineman and Clemson freshman Darnell Jefferies, Georgia State safety Romario Johnson and a handful of current Power Five players such as West Virginia’s Toyous Avery and South Carolina’s Steven Montac — fewer people than ever are asking about the Covington school’s whereabouts.
“Now it’s definitely different because we’ve had some success and we have some solid kids, and we kind of have a brand out there now.”
To get the greatest glimpse of Skelton’s passion for what he does, go visit the Newton weight room. During the offseason he’s in there, whistle in mouth and yelling at the top of his lungs as he pushes young teenage bodies to the brink of their physical limitations.
But he’s not too serious to where he can’t find moments to laugh and joke with an athlete, even in the midst of a grueling work out.
“It’s hard work in here, but we still have fun pushing each other to be better,” Skelton said. “It’s all about having a mindset. I believe nobody in the county prepares like we do.”
Recently Skelton allowed himself a moment of confident self evaluation on Twitter, writing, “I’m the best at preparing the product,” which garnered wild responses of agreement from current and former players, fellow coaches and parents alike.
I'm The Best At Preparing The Product.— Newton HS Recruits (@CoachSkelton06) June 2, 2018
Absolutely! We appreciate and love all that you have poured into your students, your protégés.— Giget C. Johnson (@gigetcjohnson) June 2, 2018
When you take a look at some of the athletes who have benefited from his tutelage, it’s hard to argue. Some of the players who are performing on larger stages now were largely overlooked before linking up with Skelton.
Consider former Newton wideout Dante Johnson. Johnson only played two years of varsity football, and upon graduation he matriculated to Independence (Kansas) Community College where, as a 6-foot-4, 200-pounder, he’s now becoming a fairly sought after JUCO prospect.
“Coach Skelton has definitely impacted me since I started playing football my junior year,” Johnson said. “He helps me through this long process of recruiting and getting better, and has been there since the beginning.”
Montac has a similar story. In his College Football Q&A story, Montac gave his account of how he went from scrawny high school kid to SEC defensive back, and he credits Skelton for it.
“He saved my life from my freshman summer year in high school,” Montac said. “I was playing wide receiver and he moved me to DB and believed in me and every move I made. It helped me graduate and made the player I am today.”
Johnson, a former standout quarterback at Newton who also traversed through the JUCO ranks to land a Division I scholarship at Georgia State, has a similar testimony.
“Man, it started with me going into my sophomore year,” Johnson said. “All our coaches had left and Skelton was like the only one that really stayed. I wasn’t the starter at that point, and every day he pushed me to be better. He took us to camps without asking for anything. He does all this and has a family, and it just shows what type of guy he is.”
It doesn’t take long, though, to find out that Skelton’s influence on young athletes goes far beyond the gridiron.
“He’s always been an influential person to me because he’s always made sure we were doing good just in life, and was there to talk about anything if you needed it,” said Myron Middlebrooks, a two-year starter at quarterback who just graduated in May.
“He’s pushed me to new limits as I was expected to fill some big shoes at quarterback, and he always talked to me before, during and after practices and games to make sure my mind was focused on doing the job he knew I was capable of doing. Even off the field, if there were any personal problems I was dealing with, he was there to give me a new perspective on the situation and how to deal with it the correct way,” Middlebrooks added.
“He’s like an older brother to me who gives life lessons, not only about football,” Johnson chimed in, which touched off another affirmation from Montac.
“It’s definitely more than just football with Skelton,” Montac said. “He’s truly a great leader and person for the youth.”
Banks says Skelton’s ability to handle the non-football issues his players face on a daily basis is a life-saver to him as head coach of a Class AAAAAAA football team.
“As head coach, I’m responsible for 120 kids, and the adjustment for me is I don’t get to know everybody’s problem. So It’s good to know somebody on staff can be trusted to handle those things. If it’s a big enough issue, he’ll come find me. But it takes the pressure off me when he says, ‘I’m not gonna bring anything to you unless it’s life changing.’”
Banks also said he gets pleasure in watching Skelton mature as a person, even as he helps young student-athletes do the same.
“He reminds me of a younger me in terms of the things he does for the kids and what he’s willing to do,” Banks said. “And, again, it’s not just even about football. I’ve seen him grow completely from graduating college as a wild young man to being married and a soon-to-be father of two. And yet his passion is still there.”
And, let Skelton tell it, that passion doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
“It really does mean so much to see these kids come here, come into this weight room or on this field as eighth graders or as freshmen and watch them develop and transform,” Skelton said. “And seeing the ones who graduated come back in the offseason to keep working means a lot. It shows we’re doing something right at Newton.”