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PREP BASEBALL Q&A: Newton coaches sound off on the official start of the season
Chandler Hicks
Chandler Hicks will spend three days in August playing in front of MLB scouts with other highly-touted prep players from all over the country. -photo by Matthew Grimes

COVINGTON, Ga. —  Monday marked the official beginning of baseball season in Newton County, as the three county teams -- Alcovy, Eastside and Newton -- hosted team tryouts. 

Each team has one glaring commonality: each head coach is entering their first year as their respective team’s head coach. 

New Alcovy head coach Jimmy Hughes spent the last few years with the Shiloh program before making his way to Covington. 

Eastside head coach Brandon Crumbley lead the team last year, but under the interim tag. During the offseason he was announced as the team’s head coach after leading Eastside to the sweet sixteen in last season’s playoffs. 

Newton head coach James Jackson has been with the Newton Program for the last few years and steps in to replace Andre Byrd who left for a position at Creekside High. 

I spent Monday afternoon visiting the three different schools observing the county’s first bit of baseball action. Since then, rosters are being completed and potential standouts are starting to be identified. But after that first day of practice/try-outs, I was able to chat with each coach and get their thoughts on their first day and their outlook for the season.

Alcovy’s Jimmy Hughes

Matthew Grimes: How does it feel to finally be back to baseball?

Jimmy Hughes: “I was happy from a selfish perspective, but there’s nothing like seeing the unbridled joy of the kids on day one. They knew it wasn’t more time in the weight room, a conditioning session, or four-on-one time. It’s the real thing. Any baseball guy that hears the crack of the bat or a ball hitting a glove, and says they aren’t in love, is lying to you.”

MG: There’s nothing quite like those sounds. How do you feel about the way (Monday tryouts) went from a baseball perspective?

JH: “We saw a lot of positives and some things we need to tweak. We had some solid approaches at the plate in the batting practice session. There were also a couple of kids that surprised us, especially the underclassmen. The biggest things are confidence and the mental game. Our kids have to believe they are going to be successful, and our staff will be their biggest supporters along the way.”

MG: What are some of the things you can do early on, especially this week, to set the tone for the season?

JH: “Our biggest thing is to set our foundational approaches defensively, on the mound, and at the plate. We’re going to have a standard to set in each aspect of the program, but our expectations have to be clear. A foundation set upon sand will crumble. A foundation set upon a rock will stand forever, or at least a long time. It all boils down to fundamentals.”

MG: Looking forward into the season, what are you most excited to see from your team this year?

JH: “I’m excited to see how we compete. We have a group of kids itching to get at somebody other than themselves. I’m also excited to see who is going to answer the bell from a leadership perspective. Player-led teams are the ones competing for region championships at season’s end.”

MG: Now that baseball season is officially here, what can we expect from the Alcovy Tigers this year?

JH: “I think people can expect us to dial up the intensity. Teams may beat us, but we want them to earn it. I want opposing coaches to say, ‘Man, that Alcovy bunch really got after it.’”

Eastside’s Brandon Crumbley

Brandon Crumbley
Eastside coach Brandon Crumbley will enter his first season at the helm of the Eagles' baseball program without an interim tag. -photo by Matthew Grimes

MG: Last week when we talked you mentioned how excited you were for Monday. Now that Monday has come and gone, how do you feel it went?

Brandon Crumbley: Oh it was a good day- a good first day. We had our older group get out here early right after school. It was good to see those guys, and these young guys too. It’s always exciting to see the new guys. It was cold but it was a good day.”

MG: What is your plan for the rest of the week’s practices?

BC: (Tuesday) we are going to do a coach pitch scrimmage. We’ll see these guys actually play a little bit of baseball. We are actually going to be doing that for the rest of the week, so that’s kind of our schedule there. It will be good though to kind of cut them loose and let them play a little bit. I know (Monday) was kind of boring since we were doing more of a pro style workout. A lot of these kids have never done that before. So it was different and new for them and it gives us a lot of data. It’s just another piece of the puzzle that is making the hard decisions and putting a roster together.”

MG: I noticed in my time out here you mostly had ninth and 10th graders out on the field and you were still doing the intense, very professional training and evaluation drills. How do you think that sets the tone for the culture you want to build here from the ground up? 

BC: “That’s the whole thing, we are just trying to build the culture. I always say ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day,’ and one of the hashtags I like to use is #trusttheprocess. Everything we do is a process. It’s just about everybody buying into it and believing in it. We are introducing these guys to a pro style workout, that way when they go to a showcase or a college workout they’ll know what to do. And it gives us a chance to see them show a lot of different skills.” 

MG: What do you think is the most important thing you can do this week that will kind of set the course for the season?

BC: “Just compete. Come out here and hustle, man. I was talking to the older kids today about taking care of the little things. Make sure you’ve got your hat, you’ve got some long sleeves, your cleats, that sort of thing. If you take care of the little things, the big things take care of themselves.”

Newton’s James Jackson

MG: So (Monday) was your first official day out here. How do you think it went? 

James Jackson: “I think it went awesome. The intensity was great. The guys were happy to be out here, I was happy to be out here, the coaches were happy to be out here. I mean its baseball season.” 

MG: It’s a little cold but it will warm up soon enough. I know we’ve talked before about your time on staff with the team (as an assistant), but now that you’re the head guy, what is the biggest difference in your preparation?

Newton Baseball
From left, Jackson McIntyre, Will Standard and J.D. Coltharp during Newton's first official day of tryouts and practice Monday. -photo by Matthew Grimes

JJ: “Game scheduling. I think just being in charge. That’s the biggest difference — the administrative part. That’s the only difference really. Everything else is the same.”

MG: What is going to be your main focus point as you practice in preparation for the upcoming season?  

JJ: “We are going to try to fine tune the guys. As far as fundamentals go, we want to be a fundamentally sound team. Fielding, catching and lessening the mistakes. The less mistakes we make, the more games we will win. We are going to concentrate on situational baseball. If we can do that, I think we are going to be a pretty good team.”

MG: Now obviously you have Khalil Wilcox who just signed with Alabama A&M, but who is another guy who has you excited already?

JJ: “Definitely Khalil, like you said. Another guys is Israel Dixon. He is a do it all guy in the infield. He has quick hands and quick-twitch muscles. He’s a leadoff guy who can do it all at the plate. He doesn’t strike out too much at all. I’m very, very impressed with him.” 

MG: So now that it’s finally here, what has you most excited about this season?

JJ: “Competing. Being a strong-minded team. I know we will be a strong-minded team. We are going to be young but I want the guys to come in knowing that you can win any game. Don’t worry about the guys across from you, know that we are the Newton Rams and that they have to play us too.”