With three Fridays and counting, Cougars not panicking

by Chris Goltermann

Three Fridays on the calendar is all that stands between Newnan High’s football team and the start of the 2013 season. 

Just don’t look for the Cougars to start panicking anytime soon. Even with last year’s Region 3-AAAAAA Player of the Year, Tray Matthews, expecting to suit up as a starter with the Georgia Bulldogs’ defense this fall, Newnan may be in better shape than some would expect heading into another early opener against Marietta — this one set for Friday, Aug. 23 at Drake Stadium.

“It doesn’t really affect us,” said Cougars head coach Mike McDonald of the early start.

Still, the calendar may have shrunk somewhat with one less week to prepare, especially since Newnan also has to wait until Thursday - like the rest of Georgia High School Association schools - to begin contact in pads following five days of conditioning in helmets.

“You’re limited somewhat to the things you can do, of course,” said McDonald on Saturday. “But it gives you a chance to work on things like special teams.”

The Cougars will have a dozen practices in pads, including scheduled two-a-days on Aug. 1 and Aug. 5 to get acclimated prior to a preseason scrimmage on Aug. 16 at Griffin. Otherwise, Newnan won’t have to look far to restock the lineup despite returning just four starters on each side of the ball. They include centerpieces of both the offensive and defensive units - junior quarterback Bailey Bryant and senior middle linebacker Tonarius Portress are back to build around.

Portress, at 5-11, 220-pounds, led the Cougars with 124 tackles last year and had a pair of interceptions to go with two forced fumbles and two recoveries.

At Monday’s preseason meeting of Region 3-AAAAAA football staffs, Newnan coaches remarked that Bryant, who was a 6-3, 180 pound sophomore starter last fall, had put on at least 10 to 15 pounds over the summer.

“He’s about 6-4, 195, so he’s starting to fill out a little bit,” said offensive coordinator Kenny Morris of Bryant.

Bryant had already gained respect among his toughness, however, during the Cougars’ second-round playoff loss to Colquitt County. Nursing a badly injured throwing shoulder, he off the bench to lead Newnan back in the second half during an eventual 26-23 loss. He finished the year with 66-percent completion rating after throwing for 1,768 yards and 16 touchdowns as opposed to six interceptions.

“We feel like our strengths going in are at quarterback and running back,” said Morris.

Along with Bryant, the Cougars return junior Javarus (J.K) Britt, who seems poised to take on an even bigger role following two years as a contributor on offense. Britt, who rushed for 551 yards and gained another 288 receiving, finished with seven touchdowns and became a starter at cornerback late last fall.

He’s already earned a Division I offer from Clemson.

Bryant and Britt are joined by returning starters Myles Moran and Anferney Turner on the offensive line.

The biggest vacancy on offense, meanwhile, will be at wide receiver where the Cougars lose their top-two contributors for the second consecutive year.

“We’ve got some guys who we think who are play, they’re just inexperienced,” said Morris of a group led by Chrishawn Dix and basketball standout Immanuel Griggs.

Two others - Spencer Perry and Donterrious Snelling - arrive at Newnan after battling each other as members of GISA rivals Heritage School and Trinity, and could add depth.

Both expect to compete for starting jobs in the secondary, Perry at one safety spot lost to graduation and Snelling for a cornerback position last filled by former All-Region standout Rodney Tennie, who led the area in interceptions.

Along with Portress and Britt, the defense returns Mark Harris and linebacker Terrence Geter. The quickness of Geter - a top sprinter last spring - and fellow track standout Josh Hill at linebacker should provide plenty of speed from sideline-to-sideline among the middle of the defense.

Meanwhile, Portress, had “gotten a ton stronger,” said co-coordinator Jeff Bryant, who’s been pleased with the new faces surrounding his big middle linebacker.

“They’re athletic and they’re good looking kids,” he said. “The big thing is how quickly we can get them acclimated.”

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