COVINGTON, Ga. -- There was a particular play during the spring football game between Alcovy and Newton when Newton rising senior quarterback Myron Middlebrooks perhaps looked more in charge than at any other point in his career.
It was on an option play. Middlebrooks took the snap, faked a handoff to Nuru Tinch, tucked the ball and bolted left toward the sideline. He ran with speed and embraced contact with force. Then, after passing by a couple of would-be tacklers, Middlebrooks finished off the play by stretching his hand with the football over the pylon for a touchdown.
The fact that he scored wasn’t necessarily the most impressive element of that play. It was, rather, a run that typified the kind of night the 6-foot-3, 190 pound rising senior would have against the Alcovy defense last week.
Middlebrooks looked notably stronger and faster from behind center every time he touched the ball. Even some of his throws had more zip and velocity than what we’d seen from him last season.
When asked how he would describe the noticeable changes in him, from physique to playing style, Middlebrooks offered up a three-word summation.
“Food and track,” he said with a laugh. His diet, he described as “everything” that could cause him to bulk up without losing agility.
“I ate a lot more meat and stuff,” Middlebrooks said. “You know, protein and things like that to get me bigger.”
And as for the speed factor, you can credit that to a year spent on the 2016 defending state champion boys track team.
“Oh yeah, coach (Kevin) Barnes is a great coach,” Middlebrooks said. “Working with him got me much faster this past year.”
The welcome girth and speed Middlebrooks showed as a part of the Newton offense made Rams head coach Terrance Banks smile. With a stronger, faster quarterback, a healed potential game breaker in rising senior Nuru Tinch and a vastly improved rising junior in Adarius Thomas, Banks said he’s excited in the way his talented offensive backfield trio accomplished — not just in last Saturday’s spring game — but throughout the entire offseason.
“They ran down hill, they ran behind their pads and they ran very well,” Banks said. “Which is what I wanted, and what we’ve been working on all spring and all winter. (In the spring game) the line opened up holes, and they just did they’re job.”
Banks sees much to be excited about, but when he speaks on it, he does so with a businesslike approach. The fact that Newton’s defense decimated Alcovy’s offensive front and that the Rams offensive line pushed people around, is indicative of the kind of identity the fifth year coach wants from his bunch.
“On Saturday we had 11 guys run to the ball on defense,” Banks said. “Our offensive lineman played to the echo of the whistle and we ran downhill all night. All spring there’s been a lot of competition, and we said if you wanna play here, you’ve got to be physical. That’s what it’s going to take to get over the hurdles in our way.”
Some of those hurdles come in the from of strong region rivals, namely defending state champion Grayson, as well as teams like Archer and South Gwinnett. Newton beat South Gwinnett 13-12 last year, but lost back-to-back games at Archer and Grayson by a combined score of 76-0.
Granted, the Rams battled some injury problems last year that hampered their offense greatly. Among those were Tinch, who missed most of the season and Middlebrooks who sat out several games after sustaining a knee injury against Heritage.
Middlebrooks said the knee is still giving him a few fits, although it wasn’t easily discernible by way of his play last Saturday.
“It bothered me, but I didn’t really show it,” he said. I’ll get it checked out. If I need to have surgery, I’ll do it over the summer.”
Meanwhile, he’ll use the summer to shore up his throwing mechanics and footwork. Although Newton loses big pass-catching threats like J.J. Holloman who’s at Georgia now and Dante Johnson, Banks is encouraged by younger talents on the outside, such as Tyrese Peacock and sophomore Robert Lewis.
“I’m pleasantly impressed with…Robert,” Banks said. “He caught several deep routes during the (spring) game. We talk a lot with him about being the next Akeem Hunt, who is his big brother, and stepping into the role of guys like Dante and J.J.”
A potentially potent running game could make things a lot easier, though, for the Newton offense. At least that’s what Tinch, a rising senior with a handful of NCAA Division I offers believes.
“We’re about to be dangerous as an offense,” Tinch said. “Very dangerous. Something to definitely look out for.”
Tinch says part of the danger involves him playing with a little extra fury, due to his desire to make up for the lost time his injury took from him.
“I felt good finally getting out and playing against someone else,” he said. “I enjoyed playing with my team. We have a great offensive line, and yes, I’ve definitely got a lot to prove. I feel like it’s something I can’t even explain. I’m just gonna show it.”
Tinch said he feels his running style has improved, thanks being more physical and becoming more of a north-and-south runner.
“No juking,” he said. “I’m coming down hill, and I want to do more of that.”
He gave props to Adarius Thomas, his rising junior backfield mate for being more of the same — a dangerous downhill runner who wants to distribute punishment more than receive it.
“Adarius is good,” Tinch said. “I know I don’t have to worry about anything if I come out of the game. We’re still gonna eat. He’s a young cat too, and he’s a little smaller, but he don’t care about that. We both come down hill with it.”
It’s the recipe for 2017 success, as far as Banks is concerned. And he won’t have to wait much longer to get his boys back into the kitchen, so to speak.
“We finished our grades for this year, and the weight room opens up Tuesday after Memorial Day,” Banks said. “Coaching only comes into play when the Jimmys and Joes are equal. We’re going to get back to work, and make sure ours are equal with Grayson and Archer and South (Gwinnett). And from there, the coaching part, we’ll worry about.”