The 2011 Newton Rams epitomized an up-and-down football team, punctuated by its final game of the season when, with the playoffs on the line, they beat region rival Luella in four overtimes only to find out their postseason hopes had been squashed earlier in the night with East Coweta's narrow victory.
Newton High School football coach Cortez Allen has another tough schedule - including two trips to football-crazy Lowndes County - and a "baby" at quarterback, but he also has his eyes trained on the playoff berth the team thought it had last year.
In his annual speech to the Kiwanis Club of Covington Thursday, Allen said the Rams will be successful if their veteran defense, led by linemen Kingsley Ejike and Treyvon Richardson, can hold down opposing offenses.
"Both of these young men are prime time players. They both already received multiple offers to go to colleges," Allen said. "So I put the pressure on them. They know it. Our season is going to ride on those two gentlemen. If those two big guys can take care of their business on the defensive line, I feel real comfortable about every ball game."
The Rams went 6-4 in 2010 and 2011 and 6-5 in 2009, and Allen is hoping they can finally break through with a playoff berth. After struggling in region play the past two years, the Rams move up to class AAAAAA, the largest in the state.
The first game of the season is against Eastside, which will be a tough test for sophomore quarterback Kemani Pitman.
"We're really proud of him. He's done an outstanding job of working hard and preparing himself. We're going to wish him all the best tomorrow night," Allen said.
As for the trips to play Lowndes County High School and Valdosta High School, Allen said his team has to play the best to become the best.
"The idea behind the trips to Wintersville is if you're going to be the best you have to play with the best," Allen said. "So for us to take that next step and get into the playoffs and make a deep run, our kids have to have that kind of competition throughout the year," Allen said.
To prepare for the season, Allen had his team participate in a couple of different 7-on-7 events, he took the players to several colleges to visit with program and coaches there, including Georgia Southern, Louisiana State, Mississippi State and Savannah State universities and the University of Tennessee.
However, teaching the players to be winners is only one third of Allen's vision for his program, with the other parts being building up young men and graduating scholars. He praised former players who have gone on to successful colleges and talked up The Apprentice School in Virginia, a shipbuilding school in Newport News, Va., where young men who struggled in high school can go and learn a trade while getting more advanced education.