COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton is preparing to enter the gauntlet.
After securing the Newton Cup with back-to-back victories over county rivals Alcovy and Eastside to open the year, the Rams were given a well-deserved bye last week. The break was short-lived as they must now travel to Powder Springs on Friday to square off against state powerhouse McEachern.
This will be just the second all-time meeting between the two programs. The first came in 2013, when the Indians knocked the Rams out of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs in the first round.
But Newton head coach Camiel Grant Jr. is no stranger to McEachern and what head coach Franklin Stephens has done at the helm.
In fact, Grant and Stephens are quite familiar with one another. They run in similar circles, and Grant has watched the success Stephens has had as an assistant at Camden County, followed by triumphant head coaching stints at Tucker, Lamar County and Ware County.
Stephens is now in his second season leading the Indians. His first autumn saw the club post a 12-1 record and reach the state quarterfinals. While McEachern has struggled its way to a 1-3 start to open the 2020 campaign, Grant understands what to expect from a club led by his longtime acquaintance.
“I have a ton of respect for his ability to have a team ready to play in all phases of the game,” Grant said of Stephens. “They’re going to understand what you’re trying to do to them; they’re going to have a plan for it. And so we’re going to have to execute at a high level as coaches and as players. “
Led by dual-threat quarterback Bryce Archie, McEachern has the ability to space opponents out and beat them through the air as well as on the ground. What sticks out most on film to Newton’s coaching staff, however, is the Indians’ ability to play fundamentally sound football for four quarters regardless of what is thrown their way.
“They’re not trying to trick you, by any stretch of the imagination. But the technique, when you look at the offensive and defensive line, when you watch their footwork and their hands, their technique is impeccable,” Grant said. “You’re not going to trick them into doing things. You’re going to have to line up, have a good scheme and be sound in what you’re doing to beat them.”
Newton’s secondary was the bright spot in its victories over Alcovy and Eastside. They must continue keeping things in front of them and locking down receivers in order to contain the potentially potent McEachern offense.
“We graduated a ton of guys from back there, but that still is shaping up to be one of our strengths. And that’s a good thing,” Grant said.
Friday’s game will be followed by a trip to another state power in Houston County, which will serve as the final tuneup before diving into Region 4-AAAAAA play against Parkview, Brookwood, Mill Creek and Grayson. It’s a gauntlet that rivals any in the state, but one that Newton believes could serve as a launching pad for future success.
“If you’re going to be successful in 7A, and in our region, that’s what you’re going to have to face every week. So as much of a challenge as it is, you have to put those games on the schedule,” Grant said. “We understand that if we do it right, we’ve got a chance to be one of the most respected teams in the state because we play some of the best competition in the state. But it takes a lot to get to that point.
“A team like McEachern is going to definitely force you to do all those things the right way to be able to get there.”