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PREP BASEBALL: New Newton coach James Jackson says Rams can be immediately competitive
James JAckson
Newton baseball coach James Jackson.

COVINGTON, Ga. -- Any coach of any sport will tell you that he or she wants to win every game, match or meet played. And no doubt, the same can be said for Newton’s new head baseball coach, James Jackson. 

But when asked how competitive Jackson said he expects his first Rams squad to be, he brought up a certain type of game he will expect his team to win all the time. 

Home games. 

Last year’s Newton squad posted an overall record of 13-16-1, and were a South Gwinnett win at home away from a postseason berth. Incidentally, Newton’s home record was 8-9-1, which included that 4-3 loss season-ending loss to the Comets, a 1-0 loss to Region 8-AAAAAAA foe Shiloh and a 4-3 region loss to Archer. 

If the Rams win any one of those hard-fought home tilts — particularly the ones earlier in the season — a state tournament berth would have likely been a reality. 

That fact isn’t lost on Jackson, as he and his new team face the kickoff of the 2019 season in less than two months. And protecting home field is right at the top of his first-season culture-setting goals for Newton baseball. 

“We’re gonna compete, and I mean that,” Jackson said. “Day in and day out, that’s our goal. And for us to not lose on our own playing field. That’s what our focus is going to be. I believe once we do that, then everything else will take care of itself.” 

In a perennially tough region with the likes of Grayson and Archer typically dominating the top spots year after year, Jackson knows that cracking the code of those two region powerhouses will be paramount in building the kind of program he envisions. 

One obstacle to that this season, however, is the fact that Newton will lose a ton of talent from the 2018 campaign. Nine seniors in all have graduated, but several players like junior utility guy, Israel Dixon, pitcher Christian Davis and a host of newcomers give Jackson hope of being competitive right away. 

“It’s going to be about mental toughness with these guys,” Jackson said. “Showing tenacity and grit. Learning when to close games and not giving up when things are getting rough. We definitely lost a lot of guys, but I think we have a young corps of guys who are coming and buying in. We have some big things ahead.” 

Perhaps the biggest piece of that prospective success will be the play of Newton’s lone senior, Khalil Wilcox. The centerfielder signed Wednesday with Alabama State, and is the team’s returning leader in just about every non-pitching category you can find. 

And Jackson, being no stranger to the Newton program — he’s been connected since 2008 — has seen enough of Wilcox to know how special he is and, no doubt, will be to this team. 

“Khalil is a hard worker, and the sky’s the limit for him,” Jackson said. “He doesn’t talk the most, but he just leads by example. He’s the one who’s going to go out and show the guys what kind of competitor he is. Then he’s going to show them how to compete. He just as a big hard, and it’s going to be big to have him with us, on and off the field. 

“When we’re down, he’s gonna be a guy that we’ll be able to lean on. To have a guy like that to lean on, he’s been through the tough times. He’ll be the one relaying the right messages to our team.” 

Jackson said he plans to craft this season’s squad into one that will be a “a slashing team. A fast team.” 

“We’ll go with the flow, but we’re gonna play small ball,” he added. “When we need to, we’ll hit and run. We’re not looking for the long ball, because we don’t have those kind of players right now.”

But Wilcox says that fact, plus the team’s relative youth and inexperience, doesn’t tempt him to temper expectations at all. 

“Coach Jackson is a great man, I’m looking forward to the season,” Wilcox said. “He’s bringing a lot of good tools to the table, and I think we can be a better team than we were last year. I feel like we will develop and prosper with our young guns coming, and I believe it’s gonna be a pretty good year.”