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STOVALL: Newton County, let’s keep mining for athletic greatness
Gabriel Stovall

Be proud, Newton County. Be very proud. 

So many examples exist that can provide proof of just how talent rich Newton County and the Covington area is when it comes to athletics, so permit me to call the roll a bit. 

Toyous Avery. Steven Montac. Eric Stokes. Darnell Jefferies. Jacobi Francis. Jaquan Henderson. Josh Tukes. JJ Holloman. Quindrelin Hammonds. Robert Black, IV. 

And these are just a few — a handful of names of players who represent your county at the highest level of college football. We haven’t even touched on the names of players who star, or have starred in mid-major, Division II, Division III or NAIA ranks. 

That’s also not to mention those who have gone on to play professionally. And while we’re in the bragging mood, let’s also realize that I’m only talking about college football right now. 

When you peel back the record on the other sports and see the ample basketball, baseball and even softball talent that’s come through and is coming up in Covington, it’s not a stretch to call this area a mini hotbed. We’ve even got state-ranked tennis players (Eastside’s Abbey Grace Venham) and a wrestling dynasty at nearby Social Circle. 

Just this past spring we had a Newton alum playing in the Women’s College World Series, a Newton baller matriculating to arguably the most recognizable men’s college basketball brand in the country and two middle school softball players commit to Power Five schools.

 We’ve had a near state champion in girls basketball, and a quality coach in Tiffani Johnson who seems locked in on this next level. We’ve got a boys basketball program coached by Rick Rasmussen that always seems to be on the precipice of state title glory, no matter who comes or goes.

We’ve got recent state champs in track and field — both team and individual, and coaching staffs littered with former collegiate and professional athletes. 

When we do that Newton County Mount Rushmore edition, it’s gonna be bananas. 

And as I was pondering the college football landscape with SEC and ACC Media Days happening in Atlanta and Charlotte, North Carolina respectively, it donned on me that we have Newton County representation in three of Georgia’s five NCAA Division I football programs with Deonta Clark and Jeremiah Bundrage at Savannah State and Romario Johnson now representing at Georgia State. 

Not bad for a county with just over 105,000 people in the extreme eastern fringe of the Metro Atlanta area, or as one of my Twitter followers referred to it — “The Far East.”

Now, let’s take it a step further. Think of all the athletes who were reared and developed in Newton County — the ones who grew up in our recreation leagues, learned the fundamentals in our middle schools and added flair to their abilities in our parks, outdoor basketball courts and gyms across the area — and left for what may have been considered greener pastures. 

Listen, you’ll rarely, if ever, catch me dogging a high school athlete for making moves they and their families think are best for them. But I just can’t help but to wonder what could’ve been for some of our schools if some of that talent stayed put. 

I get it. We live in a much more fluid era of amateur sports, as far as transfers and star athletes wanting to team up with other star athletes at already-established programs goes. But man, can a brother dream?

What’s my dream? That the best and brightest emerging stars of Newton County and their families would one day gather in a room and discuss the prospects of banding together to create, right here within our own county borders, that which so many have left to find. 

Championship teams, particularly in the major sports.

A couple of weeks ago I did a story on a promising young Clements Middle School baller named Sanaa Tripp. She could be one of the top rising talents in the area, and her father said unless they move for some reason, she’ll be attending Newton. 

I think about Veterans Memorial Middle School star defensive end Justin Benton. Football recruiting guru Rusty Mansell of already has the 13-year old on his radar, and Benton has the chance to follow in his dad’s footsteps — both as a Newton High standout and Division I player. 

Eastside softball, just a few steps away from playing for a state title last year in Columbus, welcomes Lauren Burnett this year. Burnett is a freshman who committed to playing for Georgia while still in middle school. 

And Cousins Middle rising eighth grader Kyla Stroud pledged to Auburn right from Covington’s own back yard. 

I could go on. But the main point must not be missed: You can get wherever you need to go as an athlete right from Covington and Newton County, Georgia. You can put yourself on whatever map you desire, and put your hometown and county on a state championship map in the process. 

I do realize, though, that this wish of mine — some of you may call it a pipe dream — is a two-sided coin. The county, its residents and government must continue to show that these athletes and the sports they play matter as something more than just a way to pass the time on the way to high school graduation. 

Newton County powers-that-be should never become complacent in finding ways to invest time, energy, and yes, money into keeping our local athletics scene on the cutting edge, and making Newton County a place top shelf athletes want to run to instead of run from. 

Community businesses and entities should never cease to see the value in placing resources into further development of and support for county athletics, from the recreation department all the way to Sharp Stadium (while maybe finding room for an indoor olympic-size swimming pool somewhere in the area). 

The dividends it would pay, both for athletes and schools, residenand county infrastructure, would be huge. There are too many areas right in Georgia to point to as proof — some of them not much different in makeup than Newton County. 

I love one of the more recent tweets from Newton football coach Terrance Banks. Though he was talking specifically about his football program, I still think it succinctly summarizes our area’s athletic potential while also casting a vision for achieving what’s still in front of us. 

In that tweet, Banks asks four questions: “Can we win a state championship here? Do you have the opportunity to play college football? Can you play D1 FBS football and be from Newton? Can you play in the NFL and be from Newton?”

Three of the four questions have green check marks next to them, signifying they’ve already been answered. The state championship question remains unanswered. He addresses such when he wrote, “Only 1 box left to check! BELIEVE we will soon.” 

I believe it, Coach. 

The talent is here — and not just for football. Not to apply pressure, but would anybody really be that shocked to see Eastside softball win one in the next couple of years?

In many places, I believe the coaching is here. And one thing I’ve learned about you, Newton County, is the passion for quality athletics is here. 

So how about we make that meeting in that room happen sooner rather than later? How about we celebrate what we’ve accomplished while simultaneously casting a vision to how much more we can do and how many more major academic-athletic careers we can launch from within our own borders?

You tell me the place. I’ll bring the Chick-Fil-A.

Gabriel Stovall is the sports editor of The Covington News. He can be reached at for tips and story ideas. Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1.