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Observations from first Newton practice of 2023
My takeaways from an evening of work in Athletic Park.
On Monday, the Newton High School football team opened its 2023 season on the first KSHSAA-sanctioned day for fall sports activities. The practice — which was T-shirts and shorts for all players — ran from 6:15 to roughly 8:30 at Fischer Field Stadium. Here’s what I noticed:
Kicker/punter competition takes center stage
With Collin Hershberger graduating last spring to continue his soccer career at Fort Hays State University, head coach Greg Slade and his staff are now tasked with identifying a new kicker and punter. They wasted no time getting after it and spent the first 15 minutes of practice watching reps from a myriad of players try their hand at both positions. For a team that expects to find itself in plenty of close-game situations, settling on a reliable leg is critical.
Slade embraces two-way philosophy
To promote a high-energy, high-tempo environment, the Railers split their practices into two halves: offensive and defensive, each half including individual and team periods. With just under 75 players in the program altogether, this format incorporates a sort of built-in conditioning. And considering how well veteran trench presences Nick Ruth and Jackson Marlar moved around during both sessions, it’s clear this structure is working.
11v11: No surprises here
As the first-team offense worked through plays against a scout defense, the suspicion that Newton would roll with its scheme from the home stretch of 2022 looked on point, a staple from Slade’s time at Rose Hill. The focus on attacking the perimeter reigned supreme with James Hulse taking almost every rep at running back. By both Ruth and quarterback Colby Gomez, this consistency was mentioned as a notable positive going into fall camp.
7v7: Teachable moments seized
The first-team Railers defense then worked 7-on-7. Gomez launched a 30-yard touchdown strike to start and defensive coordinator Ray Boese gave instructions to the cornerback who was beaten on the play. After a pair of completions later on, Boese again corrected his young secondary.
At one point, there was a minute-long break in action for Boese’s teaching — a focus on mental sharpness that isn’t uncommon for mid-August but will go a long way against the juggernaut AVCTL-I offenses.
Defense preaches edge discipline
Giving up big plays has been a thorn in the Newton defense’s side for years. Therefore, it’s undoubtedly an area Boese is seeking to address immediately, which starts with setting the edge and not getting beat by speed on the perimeter — which is partly what cost the Railers an upset win over Derby a year ago. Via walkthroughs and drills, Boese worked with the outside linebackers for a full 15-minute period to hammer home these principles.
Newton will continue to work ahead of its regular season opener on the road against Valley Center. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Sep. 1.