High School Football

Depth in backfield could give Newnan’s offense a push

by Chris Goltermann


Entering Monday’s first practice in helmets, Newnan has a group of five running backs capable of gaining varsity carries this fall. 

Aside from financial recourse in terms of facilities and/or salaries, maybe the biggest handicap high school football coaches have com- pared to those in college is the ability to shape a roster around one’s philosophies on offense and defense.

As Newnan High’s staff has come to understand, it’s sometimes the other way around.

A bevy of running backs at a position hit hard by injuries the past two years may suddenly be one of the Cougars deepest this fall.

And with its current drought among veteran receivers following years of 1,000-yard passing seasons, the backfield could push Newnan’s offense early on in 2014 during a string of three tough non-region games.

The Cougars open the year at Carrollton on Aug. 29 before facing Marietta and Sandy Creek.

A healthy J.K. Britt, who recently committed to the University of North Carolina, joins a pair of returners in Kelvin Khayyam and Darryel Hines among a group of at least five running backs that could see ample playing time.

If there’s as much as a silver lining on offense from a 6-5 season that was plagued by injuries, including one that ended starting center David Quesinberry’s season in Game 5, it’s in a group of 10 players that return with playing time. Of those, though, the bulk are between four offensive linemen and four running backs.

A knee injury to Quesinberry as much threw Newnan off course during a three-game stretch that included at least one 100-yard rusher.

“Last year, we had a lot of guys get hurt in the course of the sea- son, so we had a large group that had to step in there and play,” said longtime Newnan offensive coordinator Kenny Morris during Thursday’s preseason Region 3-AAAAAA meeting of coaches. “That leaves us with about nine that have playing experience on offense that had significant time. Some played half a year.”

Instead of hearing terms such as X, Y and Z used in Morris’ schemes over past years, the letter being heard most often by the longtime offensive coordinator is ‘I’.

“We’re going to be a multiple-I,” Morris said. “We’re still going to be in multiple formations. (But) we’ve changed a lot of the terminology on what we’re doing on offense. We’re still trying to weigh through all of that after all those years. Running back is probably the strength of our team.”

The 6-1, 185-pound Britt, who suffered the first major injuries of his career as a junior in a pair of ankle sprains, seems poised for his best varsity season to date after gained 1,236 yards in his first three years. He was limited to 429 in 2013 on 81 carries, all but 18 of which came in the first month of the season while 100-percent healthy.

“It was a little frustrating because it was the first time in my career that I had been injured,” Britt said about the situation. “You’ve got to keep fighting for your teammates.”

Hines, however, picked up a good bit of the slack in his varsity debut while teaming with Khayyam. Together, they combined for 903 yards rushing including consecutive 100-yard efforts in Hines’ first two starts during wins over Hardaway and Tri-Cities.

Also among the group are junior Marquis Hill, who returns after a year out of football, and senior Damion Key. Hill impressed immediately upon his return in spring as “probably one of the fastest players on our team,” said Morris. “He had a great spring. So we’re really looking for him to come on as we get in pads.”

Not that a string of top quarterbacks dating back a decade or longer to Tyler Horne and Tommy Darrah and continuing through more current signal callers in Russell Powell and Lendell Arnold is about to reach its climax.

Newnan will again boast two of the more talented quarterbacks in the region, one of which heading into his third year as a starter, and the other a potential standout in the making.

Returning starter Bailey Bryant, a 6-5, 200-pound senior southpaw is coming off a 1,496-yard campaign as a passer while 6-4, 200-pound junior right-hander Chancellor Johnson made further strides in the spring. Either one is capable of adding another 1,000-yard season. Of Bryant’s 133 completions (an increase from 122 in 2012), nearly 60-percent went to players that won’t be around in 2014. Senior Randell Arnold is the only returning starter after hauling in a team-high 37 receptions.

“He’s really about the only guy we have back from last year,” Morris said, of Arnold, who missed spring practice.

The hope is to supplant Arnold this year with sev- eral two-way players from the defensive secondary including seniors Frankie Williams (5-9, 160) and Mitchell Burk (5-10, 175). A pair of underclassmen on the rise, sophomore cornerback K.D. Satterwhite (5-10, 170) and freshman P.J. Harris (6-2, 174), however, could quickly re-establish Newnan’s prowess for its passing game even quicker.

“Satterwhite’s a sophomore that we think is going to be a good player,” Morris said, adding that Harris, “has had a really good spring and summer.”

The silver lining of Quesinberry’s season-ending injury a year ago may have already bolstered Newnan’s offensive line. The 5-9, 190-pound center is rejoined by senior Christian Shellabarger (6-1, 232) and juniors Jermiah Russell and Christian Gonzalez (6-0, 245) — all of whom started or saw playing time throughout the 2013 season.

Sophomore Joel Hughes (6-3, 265) has made an early impression while looking to crack the lineup, while juniors Demarcus Tinley (6-2, 250), Cameron Beaver (5-10, 225) and Demarcus Tinley (6-3, 270) are among a group battling for playing time.

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