The last time we saw the Newton Eagles varsity football team, they suffered a heartbreaking 34-28 overtime playoff loss to Fairfield.
“That was a tough overtime loss to Fairfield," said Eagles varsity football coach Jason Fulton. "We had an opportunity to win it and we didn't. You put that in the back of your mind so you don't let those things happen again.
"We just have to start again,” he said while taking a break from team pictures on media day at Chizevsky Field. “We had a great summer and a good off-season in the weight room.”
The Eagles most pressing need is to find a replacement for all-conference offensive and defensive tackle Teddy Frichtl, as well as the rest of the defensive line.
“Every year you lose good seniors and you hope the kids that can step up and fill those shoes,” Fulton said. “We have a little depth there, so we have a few guys that can play and are excited about them.”
Replacing Frichtl and the other three defensive linemen won't be easy. But their replacements have been practicing admirably.
“It might take them a while to figure it out,” Fulton admits. “But I love how they've been flying around the field.”
The secondary will be missing departed fellow all-conference standout Connor Bierman. But Fulton remains confident.
“The secondary is really good, we feel good about the it and linebackers," he said. “We just have to find our defensive line. We're excited about our defense.”
The offensive line returns four starters, minus Frichtl.
“The guys that came back are doing a great job," said the coach. "Some of our strength is going to come from the offensive line. We have two seniors starting, two juniors, and a sophomore.”
Fulton said a few players returned from stepping away from the program last year. It's clear he's excited about the shape the team is in right now.
“We have 10 seniors with a lot of experience," he said. “We had a few guys that played before, then didn't last year. They decided to come out this year and we're excited for what those guys bring.”
"We're excited where we're at as a team," Fulton said. “We definitely have some new faces in new places.”
One familiar face is back healthy. Running back Adam Bridges missed the early part of last season with a lower-body injury that required surgery five days before the Eagles' first game.
“Adam Bridges is back and was a big part of what we did last year. Unfortunately, he started the season injured but now he's healthy and ready to play, Fulton said. “Marshall Tarr has been a good runner for us on the JV level, and he's ready to take that to the next level.”
Payton Birch will again lead the Eagles offense and see some time in the backfield too.
“Birch is going to play some quarterback and will run the ball quite a bit as well," Fulton said. "We're excited about those three guys in the backfield.”
Add in the fullbacks – Blake Muska, Jake Rice and Riley Allen – and the the Eagles' backfield indeed looks solid.
“We're counting on those three guys to do a lot of blocking and as well as catching the ball out of the backfield," Fulton said. “We have a running back corps that's a pretty good group.”
While the size of the team is smaller than usual, with 51 players, Fulton is excited about the underclassmen.
“We have a good underclass. We have a nice size junior and sophomore class, with 16 freshmen. We're really happy with that group. We're excited with our numbers and where we're heading,” he said.
“We're not the biggest school in the conference, we're right in the middle. We're happy about those numbers. We'd like to have more to get into that 60 (player) range.”
Fulton said he needs the underclassmen to understand their role for them to contribute.
“We need those guys to step in. It's very important. They need to see the older guys,” the coach said. “We need them to realize their turn is coming, but we need these guys to perform for us now. We've been very pleased with the outcome and effort in practice.”
Their performance in practice has mirrored this year's Eagles slogan: "Win the Day." Fulton hopes that resonates on game day, too.
“We just need to go out there and win that day in practice and do our very best,” Fulton said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch for this and other stories about area teams in the Effingham Daily News football preview, to be published on Friday.
Chet Piotrowski, Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org