---- — NEWTON — The Newton Eagles' strengths in the 2013 season will center around the rushing attack, in a departure from years past.
A talented stable of running backs highlight the Eagles' attack for the upcoming season.
"For the longest time, we probably had the most sophisticated passing game around, " said Newton coach Jason Fulton. "We had a lot of great quarterbacks come through here, had great receivers and we were able to really distribute the ball.
"It's kind of going the other way at the moment, we've got a lot of good running backs so we're trying to run the ball a little bit more.
The backs are led by seniors Lucas Huston, Allen Taylor and Tanner Shull. Junior Zack Lewis and sophomore Kaleb Wittgan round out the rotation. Senior Brandon Tolliver-Goode started last year, and may see time back at running back if he can shake off some preseason injuries.
The running back corps was impressive at the team's Media Night last week, breaking off a number of long touchdown runs.
That's not to say the passing game will be a slouch, even without graduated signal caller Dylan Johnson. Sophomore Brock Mammoser has been named the starter, and also was sharp at Media Night.
"(Dylan's) going to be hard to replace, but Brock has done a fantastic job in the preseason," Fulton said. "He comes from a very athletic family. If he can be consistent in the short passing game, (we'll do well)."
His receivers are led by senior Austin Angel, who hauled in a long touchdown from the signal caller at Media Night. Sophomore Kyle Muska was impressive that night, despite his youth and small stature (5-foot-6, 130 pounds). Jake Volk, Jacob Lidy, Seth Meinhart and Blake Probst are also expected to contribute in the passing game.
Heading over the to the defensive side of the ball, it's a lot of familiar names from offense. Huston, Taylor and Shull also are among the team's best tacklers at the linebacker position.
"Defensively, we'll have to build around them," Fulton said. "Getting to the ball, tackling, the basic fundamentals are so important."
While the linebacking unit has plenty of experience, the Eagles graduated much of their help in the secondary. Angel returns to the backfield, and should start at cornerback. Tolliver-Goode is expected to start at free safety, but from there, Fulton is still evaluating the starters.
Some of the offensive skill players, like Muska, Volk and Lewis, are expected to play both ways and help out at cornerback and safety.
"We're replacing most of our secondary," Fulton said. "I expect all of those guys to see time."
In the trenches, Michael Smith and Corey Riddle lead the offensive and defensive lines. Nick Reis, Dylan Barthleme and Johnny Frohning are also returning letterman.
The Eagles have just 10 seniors, but Fulton likes the mix of experience they bring. He also said they have experience in the younger guys.
"Our juniors, a lot of them played as sophomores," he said.
They'll all play Friday night, taking on Bethalto in their season opener at 7 p.m. in Bethalto.
Seniors: Brandon Tolliver-Goode, Tanner Shull, Allen Taylor, Lucas Huston, Dylan Barthleme, Michael Smith, Hunter Frohning, Johnny Frohning, Jacob Lidy, Austin Angel
Juniors: Jake Volk, Zack Lewis, Dylan Rhodes, Cody Riddle, Nick Reis, Kyle Armstrong, Quentin Huston, Dalton Helmbacher, Garrett Hall, Cody McCoy, Blake Probst
Sophomores: Kyle Muska, Seth Meinhart, Austin Mulkey, Brock Mammoser, Josh Bierman, Kirk Johnson, Bryce Dhom, Kaleb Wittgan, John Flowers, BoDee Steber, Clayton Woodward, Tyler Chapman, Joe Smithenry, Logan May, Lucas Lindermann