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Chemistry on the field

Short roster pushes West Hall players together

POSTED: August 23, 2011 2:51 p.m.

There are certainly a number of positives West Hall coach Mike Newton can point to and show that his program is improving. Last year, the Spartans pulled together three wins in their first five games, coming on the heels of a season in which the program went winless in 2009.

Also, Region 8-AAA has a favorable set-up for an outsider to try to make the postseason, needing only one of the top three spots in the six-team subregion to earn a spot in a playoff-qualifying game at the regular season's end.

"Gainesville is the frontrunner in our subregion, and everyone else really is playing for one of the those next two spots," Newton said.

The one hurdle West Hall still hasn't cleared is proving that it can be competitive against the top tier of the subregion. Despite starting 3-2 last season, the Spartans lost the final four all in the subregion by an average margin of 35 points.

Another problem West Hall has faced for a number of years is getting enough players, dressing out about 50 on varsity this season.

Newton says the Spartans can get past that hurdle with good team chemistry and communication. With fewer players than most teams in Region 8-AAA, they'll have to be smart about substitutions and getting the maximum number of plays out of athletes.

Newton is hoping that a stout line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, and his athletic son, sophomore quarterback Chandler Newton, will help turn the tide in Oakwood.

Offense

Chandler Newton is going to be in charge of the offense this season after splitting time in 2010 with then-senior Shunquez Stephens.

Coach Newton has already fielded plenty of questions from fans about Chandler's ability to steer the offense, and he feels that the Spartans might even prove to be more versatile in their attack this season.

Chandler Newton threw for 750 yards last year, including a 294-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 48-10 win over Walnut Grove.

The offensive line should help give their quarterback time in the pocket to find the best place to go with the ball. The line is led by junior tackle Dexter Jackson (6-foot-2, 317 pounds), right guard Ryan Casey (6-2, 285), left guard David English, center T.J. Bowles and Blake Manning at right tackle.

Even though the Spartans must replace last year's two leaders at the position, wide receiver could also be a strength this season for West Hall with T.J. Williams, Zach English, Chase Jarrard and Cameron Johnson all in the fold and looking to make an impact.

Newton says the starting running back position still hasn't been cemented, but has plenty of capable players to choose from. Anthony Strickland, Rico Jones and Isaiah Murphy are possibilities.

Defense

Coach Newton is going to be playing most of his best players on both sides of the ball.
No place is that more evident than in the secondary. Jones and Zach English are the starting cornerbacks for the Spartans, and Jarrard, Murphy and Chandler Newton will also see time at safety.

At linebacker, Williams and Keith McCroan will be the starters on the outside. Turk Taylor, Colton Collins, Heath Strickland and Cameron Johnson are all possibilities at inside linebacker.

The front three on defense for West Hall includes Hunter Atkinson at one defensive end spot and either Jackson or Manning at the other. Josten Segars is the starting nose guard.

Special teams

Murphy and Jones will handle all the kick and punt return duties for the Spartans.

Junior Connor Kirkland will do all of the kicking and punting.

Outlook

Coach Newton's assessment of Region 8-AAA South is probably pretty safe. Gainesville is the team to beat, and based on returning talent, Monroe Area is probably the safest pick to finish second.

That leaves West Hall in a group with Johnson, Walnut Grove and Oconee County all fighting for the coveted third spot to get at least a shot at making the playoffs in Week 11.

The key for West Hall to make it there is to improve on defense, where seven starters return.

Last year, the Spartans allowed 32.3 points per game and gave up more than 40 points six times.

If they can change that, the Spartans could be in the hunt for their first playoff berth since 2002.

 



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