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RGR | 2022 Newton football preview: Players/units to watch, notable matchups, and keys to success
... as well as a brief week 1 preview and Esch Index projection.
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As kickoff of the 2022 Kansas high school football season quickly approaches, there might not be too many fanbases across the state with more excitement to see their team take the field than the Newton faithful.
Coming off the heels of a disappointing 2-7 campaign in 2021, USD 373 relieved former head coach Chris Jaax of his duties last November and eventually landed on Greg Slade — who won a state title at Rose Hill in 2011 — as his replacement.
And now, Slade will soon put his work with a talented, experienced squad up to the test against arguably one of the state’s toughest schedules that includes the gauntlet of state runner-ups Derby and Maize in Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail League Division 1.
“We’ve got to be consistent across the board,” Slade told KSN.com. “Be successful in all three phases of the game, offense, defense, and special teams.”
As the opener this Friday against non-league foe Valley Center awaits, here’s a comprehensive preview of the 2022 Newton Railers football season — including players/units to watch, notable matchups, and keys to success.
Players/units to watch
This list includes the six players who were featured in the RGR Spotlight series.
It goes without saying that with the introduction of a new offensive scheme, this Newton team will likely go as presumptive starting quarterback Colby Gomez goes. As a sophomore, he led the Railers to a top-five passing output among 5A teams. If he can follow Slade’s theme of consistency — a quality that was sometimes shaky from him from week-to-week in 2021 — Newton’s offense will potentially be one of its league’s most efficient.
Despite losing senior captain Jake Schmidt via graduation, the Railers are returning a potent arsenal of pass-catchers all over the field. From tight end Ryan Ruggerio to wide receivers Camden Carr, Isaac Klug, and Keon Edwards, Newton has the hands, speed, and route-running on the perimeter to feature a threatening aerial attack. Edwards will likely be the X-factor among the wideouts as he enters his junior campaign following a season marred by injuries.
A season ago, linebacker Brody Harper saw his production increase steadily during the course of his junior year. As a senior, he’s set to lead the team’s secondary (its youngest unit) as an all-around second-level playmaker after serving primarily as a run-stuffer last year. With what’s expected to be a dominant defensive line in front of him, he’ll have the ability to spend more time in space — whether it be in coverage or in pursuit on the perimeter.
The defensive line of the Railers — which flashed moments of promise a season ago — will surely set the tone for a defense that ranked 28th in 5A and allowed 384 yards per game in 2021. Led by Ricky Parga, the unit is an experienced group that hopes to offset the youthfulness of the secondary that’ll take the field behind them. If their efforts can lead Newton to the top half of 5A in total defense, it’ll positively change the course of Slade’s inaugural season profoundly.
Newton’s rushing attack was next-to-worse among 5A teams in 2021. That statistic alone puts a spotlight on junior running back James Hulse as Slade’s notorious balanced offense will give him an increase in opportunities with the ball in his hands. This summer, Hulse spoke to me about adjusting to speed at the varsity level after starting out on JV last season — and he’ll need every bit of that experience to take the next step and become a staple within the Railer offense.
Junior LB Justin Zerger returns from an injury that forced him to miss all of 2021
Senior RB CJ Claussen split time with Hulse in the team’s Fall Fest scrimmage
vs. Hutchinson — Sep. 9 (Week 2)
Week 1 aside, Newton fans will surely be looking forward to welcoming Hutchinson back to Fischer Field Stadium. After blowing an early 10-0 lead in last season’s matchup with the Salthawks, the Railers fell 28-10 in a game that many believed should’ve been one for Newton’s win column. With news surfacing from Hutchinson’s fall camp that opponents will see some changes in their offensive scheme, this game is set to be a clash between two fanbases eager to potentially start their season 2-0.
vs. Arkansas City — Sep. 30 (Week 5)
For Newton’s midseason non-league action, they’ll host a dangerous Arkansas City team. The AVCTL Division 2 squad defeated eventual 5A state runner-up Maize last season and is projected to be near the top of their league in 2022. This matchup will cap off a stacked three-game stretch with Maize and Maize South each hosting the Railers the two weeks prior — and will be a good measuring stick for Newton.
at Haysville Campus — Oct. 14 (Week 7)
Newton was throttled by Haysville Campus at home a season ago, 31-10. Despite being an often overlooked matchup, don’t be surprised if many Railers players quietly have this game circled on the schedule. There’s a lot of making up to do from their performance in 2021 — including for Gomez, who tossed a 77-yard pick-six that was the dagger in his team’s chances at rallying back.
Keys to success
There’s an acronym, ADP, to keep in mind when watching Newton in 2022:
Though out of the team’s control, Newton will likely always be battling a depth concern at more positions than not. It’s crucial that in order to give themselves the best shot to win every game, the best players are healthy and available — especially with Slade’s plan to play numerous athletes on both sides of the ball.
Newton must play smart football, above all else. This includes limiting turnovers, penalties, and the creation of any other circumstance that may harm their own chances of winning consistently. Against teams like Derby, Maize, and Maize South, there’ll be little room for error, if any at all.
Controlling the momentum of a game is something Newton did very little of in 2021. The Railers will need to flip the script — literally — to give themselves an edge. This will obviously be harder to do in some games than others, but the only way a team such as this one reaches its full potential is by playing at its own pace.
Week 1 details and preview/projection
Location: Fischer Field Stadium (Newton)
Kickoff: 7:00 p.m.
Weather: 65 degrees. Partly cloudy skies. 21% chance of rain.
Spread (via the Esch Index): Newton (-14)
Historically, Valley Center is one of the few teams Newton has found somewhat consistent success against when the two sides meet on the gridiron. This matchup, for all intents and purposes, is a perfect one to ignite the Slade era for the Railers. It should be expected that the home squad takes full advantage of the opportunity to garner the support of their town heading into a headline week 2 matchup against Hutchinson.
Esch Index projection: Newton 26, Valley Center 12