COVINGTON, Ga. — The Newton Rams have their man in new football coach, Camiel Grant, Jr.
And while Thursday’s news of Grant’s promotion from interim to long-term head coach didn’t exactly shock a ton of people close to the program, that doesn’t mean storylines regarding Grant’s new tenure will be hard to find.
In fact, any time such transitions take place, it tends to close the chapter on one set of questions while simultaneously opening up a whole new book of others.
Here are three hot-take style (more like “warm-take, now that we’re a few hours removed from Thursday’s news) observations and storylines about Grant’s hire that we’ll likely follow and watch develop between now and August 2019 when his first season at the helm of the program kicks off in earnest.
1. Grant’s hire signified the desire to bring a quick resolution to Newton’s search. According to principal Shannon Buff, well over 50 applicants threw their hats in the ring, hoping to get a piece of the Class AAAAAAA pie that is Newton High football. And let’s not kid ourselves. The Rams’ job was a fairly attractive one, given the team’s success over the last six years and the kind of talent that has come through. Originally, athletic director, Vincent Byams said he wanted to get things wrapped up and name a new coach by January. But after Grant wowed the coaching search committee by not taking for granted the fact that everyone in the room knew him during interviews, and based on his body of work as a part of the Newton staff, Byams said Thursday that the decision really was a no-brainer. Not because there weren’t solid candidates besides Grant who could come in and do the job, but because Grant was just right for Newton right now.
He brings instant stability. There will be no feeling out process between Grant, the coaching staff or the kids or the Newton administration. Sure, Grant will have to transition from being the No. 2 guy to the No. 1 guy, which isn’t always easy. But he seems to have a handle on it, as he said one of his main goals getting started is having conversations with people who can help him figure out what he doesn’t know.
At any rate, from the get-go, it was Newton’s desire to make the process as thorough but as efficient as possible. That was accomplished with naming Grant before the winter break.
2. Filling out a depleted coaching staff will be close to priority No. 1. The new coach’s words, not mine. And it’s definitely not a slight on the coaches who are already in place. Said Grant: “We’ve got a core group of guys that are chomping at the bit and ready to go. I’m very confident in that core group which understands what I — and not just I, but what we — believe in. But we’ve gotta go out and hire some more guys. We’ve been depleted the last two or three years, and we’ve lost some very good men as well as good football coaches, so the next biggest task is going out and getting people to interview, meet and find more good fits.”
Good fits, according to Grant, will take precedence over whether or not these new coaches will be offensive guys or defensive guys. But the new coach does acknowledge that the Rams “definitely have to hire some more people on the offensive side of the ball.”
In addition, Grant said he wants to find a coach or coaches adept at pouring more into future Rams making the transition out of middle school into ninth grade. Under Banks, ninth graders were almost assured of not getting a varsity sniff. And while Grant said he doesn’t want to just plug in freshmen into the varsity roster at random, he made it clear that he wants to take on a different ideology with getting those younger players ready to contribute.
“I want to get to a point where we are coached well enough and advancing to a point where it would be difficult for a ninth grader to come and fill a spot,” Grant said. “Our sophomores, juniors and seniors, if we’re doing it right, should be well ahead of most ninth graders. But at the same time, we’re all about competition. And if a kid comes in as a ninth grader and he’s capable, he’ll be given every opportunity. I don’t have have a problem playing a freshman, but if you have a program where you play a lot of them, you have a problem in your program.”
One thing Grant said he wants to improve upon is getting eighth graders that are zoned for Newton into the flow of the Rams’ football culture earlier.
“We want to speed up their development,” he said. “We want to do some things differently than we have in the past. In the past, we’ve had a difficult time getting them in here early.”
Beyond finding coaches to manage up-and-comers, Grant says, although he’s had experience with offensive play calling, he would love to delegate that responsibility if possible.
“I would love to be able to have a dedicated offensive coordinator,” Grant said. “That’s the goal. And if we can’t find the right person, I’m confident I’m capable of doing it. I’ve done it in the past. But I’d like to be able to find someone to turn that over to. It’s a huge priority for us to find someone to be that play caller.”
3. Tangible first-year changes are sure to come for Newton football. That’s always the thing we look for when we’re analyzing a new football coach, right? What are the recognizable things that differentiate this coach’s program from the last? And how long will it take for those things to manifest?
Well, when asked the one difference people will immediately be able to see when they watch the 2019 version of Newton football, without hesitation, Grant brought up the old “D” word.
“Discipline,” Grant said some what matter-of-factly. “Just a level of discipline from everybody that’s involved. You know, that’s not me trying to knock coach (Terrance) Banks, because I was a part of his staff. But I just think we have some room to grow in that area. The level of discipline and preparedness is what I want to be the biggest thing that jumps out when people watch us.”
A few other things to watch:
The Xs and Os: Offensively, Grant said he’s very much a power running game guy. He talked about the offense being “multiple,” but finding the balance of getting the ball to playmakers — which doesn’t necessarily constitute a specific percentage split between the run and pass. Grant said there will still be some RPO involved, but just lining up and being able to ram (no pun intended) the ball down a defense’s throat will be paramount.
“I want us to get our offensive line back to a high level,” Grant said. “We’ll still run some zone schemes. We’ll still run some gap scheme. I grew up running power. Cut my teeth on power.” He also mentioned his desire to incorporate a tight end in the offense more.
Getting Defensive: Without naming a certain type of front he’ll employ, Grant said he’s very a much a “middle of the field closed guy.”
“Defensively, my biggest things will be to find a way to get seven guys in the box,” he said. “Some formations dictate not being able to do that. Front wise, what we’ll be is dictated by personnel. But we want to put priority on being fast and stopping the run first.”
Putting the ‘Special’ Back In Special Teams: Over the last couple of years, Newton’s lost a couple of high-profile games through some special teams gaffes. Grant said one way to keep that from happening as frequently is to put in the extra work to shore it up.
“We’re gonna start practicing special teams stuff during winter workouts,” he said. “That’s gonna be big for us, because we’ve got to be better in the kicking game. I think we’re blessed with the kid we have now in (kicker), Abdiel Valesquez. He’ll be a junior next year, so we’ll have two more years with him that I think we need to take advantage of.”
Valesquez only missed three extra points all season while also making 4 of 6 field goal tries with his long being a 30-yarder, although he’s been seen to nail kicks from 40-plus yards in pre-game workouts. Grant also talked about kick coverage and making smart decisions in the realm of special teams as being an immediate focus.
Who Are the Playmakers? I know, it's just a little over a month removed from the last game of the season and more than eight months before we kick things off again, but it's not too early to take a look at who could become some of Grant's top playmakers he'll want to lean on in his first season.
2020 WR Robert Lewis: With an offer from Big 10 school Rutgers already in hand, Lewis is considered by Rivals.com to be a 3-star prospect. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound receiver led the Rams with over 700 receiving yards and nine touchdown catches.
2020 ATH Diondre Glover: Glover's one of those players who makes you kind of hold your breath when he touches the ball. He's versatile, and has shown ample playmaking ability on both sides of the ball. He showed flashes of big-play tendencies in 2018. Look for his production to increase drastically in his senior season.
2021 CB Nyland Green: This is one of the more intriguing talents, not just on Newton's roster, but in the area. At 6-foot-3, he's long and rangy enough to be a problem at wide receiver, but his build makes him a defensive coach's dream at corner. Like Lewis, Green picked up a Rutgers offer earlier in the season despite this being his first year at corner. He could play both sides of the ball as a junior in 2019.
2020 DE Tyon Bigby: At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Bigby burst on the scene as a viable pass rusher for a Newton defense that lost a ton of D-1 talent, particularly in the front seven, after the 2017 season. With a solid offseason, he has the frame and potential to turn into a D-1 talent before his days at Newton are done.
2020 WR Jerrol Hines: With the departure of Mike Mathison (committing to UT-Chattanooga), Hines will join Lewis and perhaps Glover and Green as a serious pass-catching threat and potential game breaker, both as a receiver and a kickoff/punt returner. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but he's got next-level speed and quickness.
2020 LB Ronald Graves: Coaches are high on the 6-foot, 205-pound linebacker who finished second on the team in tackles in 2018. He's got good toughness and has shown solid pursuit speed. He may be an anchor of what could be a re-tooled defensive front seven.