Newnan gets first look tonight at Griffin
by Doug Gorman
It won't count in either team's win-loss record, or on the stat sheet at the end of the year, but for the Newnan Cougars and the Griffin Bears, it's time to buckle up the chin straps and play some football.
The two teams meet tonight at 7 p.m. in Griffin, in a scrimmage that will be the first live action for the Cougars since ending the 2012 season with a 9-3 record and a 26-23 loss to Colquitt County in the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs.
Heading into the scrimmage with the Bears, Newnan is ready to get the season started.
'It was a good summer, and our guys really worked hard,' Newnan head coach Mike McDonald said.
Tonight's scrimmage gives several key players a chance to shine for the Cougars after getting hit hard by graduation.
Gone from last year's team are a group that included safety and wide receiver Tray Matthews, who was a standout on both sides of the ball, running back Quinton Dix and receiver Traon Moss.
Matthews is expected to start in the secondary this season as a true freshman for the University of Georgia.
Quarterback Bailey Bryant returns for his junior year after starting all 12 games for the Cougars last season.
According to head coach Mike McDonald, Bailey's arm strength has continued to improve. The Cougars 6-4, 180-pounder attended several camps this summer. 'He's really getting better. He soaks it all in. He really wants to learn. He has gone to some camps this summer and is really a student of the game,' McDonald said.
Bailey enjoyed a solid first season as the Newnan starter, completing 92 of 141 passes for 1,440 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Although Bailey will have to find several new targets to pass the ball to this season, He will have junior J.K. Britt back in the lineup.
Britt, who is attracting Division I offers including one from Clemson is the team's top returning rusher with 516 yards and four touchdowns last year. He also added 20 receptions, two of which went for touchdowns.
On the defensive side of the ball, Newnan linebacker Tonarius Portress officially starts his senior year after leading the team in tackles with 101, including 67 solos.
Also on the defensive side, end Mark Harris will be back for his senior year after battling injuries early in the season.
Harris will be one of the leaders of this year's defensive unit after returning from his shoulder problems midway through the season and making 17 tackles.
Like Newnan, Griffin made the playoffs last year, finishing with a 9-2 record before falling 33-17 to Monroe Albany in the first round of the Class AAAA playoffs.
Newnan officially opens the 2013 season next Friday at home in Drake Stadium in a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
The Cougars' opener is a week ahead of most teams in the GHSA.
Last season, Newnan started its campaign with a 38-29 win at Marietta.
The early start hasn't changed anything for McDonald's team.
'It rushes us a little bit,' he said. 'It does give us two open dates during the year.'
Newnan will have open dates Sept. 20 after the Troup game, and on Oct. 4 after Homecoming week against Hardaway.