Football Preview: Newman on doorstep of greatness, state title glory
The past decade has been the most successful in the history of Isidore Newman football program and last season was another great addition to the list.
The Greenies made finished the regular season undefeated and reached the state semifinals for the second year in a row. A narrow defeat at the hands of eventual state champion Lafayette Christian was the only obstacle that kept Newman from making its first trip to the state finals.
There is much to look back upon with pride for head coach Nelson Stewart and company; however, they are not satisfied from their 2020 campaign.
As a Newman alumnus, Stewart has seen the history of the program and could not be more excited about what is to come.
“We could not be more focused, motivated and ready to work and get better each and every day in preparation for the fall,” Stewart said.
The Greenies will have to make do without a few key seniors from last season including two-way star Sterling Scott, defensive tackle Joshua Koeppel and kicker/linebacker Will Hardie, along with wide receivers John Charbonnet and Pike Philbert. But the cupboard on Jefferson Avenue is far from bare.
“We feel very strongly that we are going to be improve,” Stewart said. “We’ve got a lot of players returning with game experience, especially big game experience.”
Expectations are once again high for a a high-powered offense lead by elite quarterback Arch Manning (6’4”, 210). A name that should be familiar to most around the state of Louisiana and even the country at this point, the junior is one of the nation’s most sought-after recruits.
“Because of the way he is, he doesn’t really seek out the spotlight or really pay that much attention to it,” noted Stewart. “We are really just focused on the team. We’re focused on our work in the weight room, having good installs and having dedicated installs where we cut the noise out. We are about being team-centric.”
Stewart is confident that his quarterback cannot only handle the pressure he has on him, but Manning is also humble enough to thrive under it. After putting up a stat line of 1922 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 67% of his passes in 10 games, more is expected this season. Manning also ran 38 times for 274 yards and eight touchdowns, showing that he is not solely a pocket passer.
Manning will have a wide array of weapons at his disposal, including last year’s leading receiver AJ Johnson (6’4”, 205). The LSU commit had a large volume of opportunities come his way catching 40 passes, for 558 yards and five touchdowns.
Lining up opposite of Johnson will be wide receiver junior Kai Donaldson (6’4”, 195) who will look to build off a solid sophomore season of 26 receptions for 373 yards and three touchdowns.
Tight end Will Randle (6’4”, 240) returns for his junior year as well. Last season, he accumulated 19 receptions for 186 yards and 2 touchdowns.
“Will Randle has gotten bigger, faster and stronger, and we’ve been able to build things around him.” Stewart said. “I can’t say enough about him… he has really matured into an even better player.”
Randle was also a contributor on defense, where he racked up 28 tackles, 9.0 for loss and 3.0 sacks. Over the offseason he has gotten offers from big time programs like LSU and Texas.
Stewart and Offensive line coach Jason Matthews will have much more size than usual in the trenches this season.
“Our line play has gotten a lot stronger and more physical,” said Stewart. “We should be 220 (pounds or more) across the board this year.”
Upfront on offense the Greenies will rely on another LSU commitment, left tackle Bo Bordelon (6’6”, 280). His younger brother Brett Bordelon (6’4”, 240) will be starting at the right tackle position as a freshman.
The defense led by coordinator Dustin Nothnagel is coming off a remarkable year where they held seven of their 10 opponents to single digit point totals. A solid group of returning starters from last year returns.
Senior defensive end John Guillot (6’0”, 190) had a great year in 2020 where he made 25 tackles, including five for loss and sacked the quarterback three times.
Junior Ramaj Waiters (6’1”, 230) joins Randle and Guillot on the defensive line, giving Newman a very strong and stout front. Waiters produced 45 tackles, 11 for loss and two sacks from the interior of the Greenies’ line. Brandon Wilkins (6’2”, 290), ineligible last year, adds a huge new presence to the defensive line’s interior.
“Ramaj Waiters and Brandon Wilkins, we’re really excited about those two being able to work together,” Stewart said. “I’m really excited about our front seven defensively and we have a chance of being very stout against the run.”
Chris Hunter (6’1”, 175) will once again be manning the free safety position, where he had 16 tackles and three interceptions for Newman last year. He will contribute on offense as well.
“Chris has had the best summer as a wide receiver top to bottom, he’s been great,” added Stewart.
Jack Robert (5’10”, 175) will be back for his senior season at cornerback, giving the Greenies even more experience in the secondary. Not a typical corner, he excels as a run defender and sometimes rushes the passer. Last year, he had 22 tackles, four for loss with two sacks from the outside.
The Greenies have seven of their 10 regular season games at home, so they will spend a lot of time in the friendly confines of Michael Lupin Field.
Newman opens its 2021 season with a matchup with an uptown foe Lusher Charter. Week two will be the Greenies’ first major challenge, as they will travel to Reserve to take on the Riverside Academy Rebels. Last year’s matchup was a thriller that saw Newman come out victorious by a 31-26 margin in a game seen live at CrescentCitySports.com. This year’s game will also be live at CrescentCitySports.com.
Week three will kick off a four-game homestand for the Greenies, as they will face perennial power West St. John, rival Country Day, Pearl River and Fisher on their home turf.
Newman heads up to LaPlace to face their fiercest district rival, the St. Charles Catholic Comets. Last year’s game was a low scoring affair as both defenses played exceptionally. Newman ultimately prevailed to win 14-7 over the eventual Division III runner-up.
Week eight will be one of the biggest games in program history as Berkeley Prep will travel all the way from Tampa, Florida to face the Greenies in New Orleans. This game may be nationally televised. Newman had their game against Booker T. Washington broadcast by ESPN last year.
Newman will face Cohen at home and then finish the 2021 regular season with a trip to Port Sulphur to meet the South Plaquemines Hurricanes.
“It’s a good balanced schedule, and certainly my hope is by the time we’ll know where we stand.” Stewart said. “We’ll know what we need to work on.”
Despite the years of success that Stewart’s offense has brought to his program over the years, he believes that there is still much room for improvement.
“Hopefully we’ll be able to put another layer of complexity into our passing game,” Stewart said. “We’re able to get a lot of things done in this offseason, and I think we’ll be able to expand what we do in all three phases – that’s throwing, that’s also running the football and our tempo.”
Complacent is not something that describes Stewart’s Greenies, a group that has still not reached the pinnacle despite fielding a number of great teams and players over the years.
“The goal is to improve on every deficiency we saw (last year) meaning our goal obviously is to win a state championship, it has to continue to be,” Stewart said. “We’ve been so close so many times.”
Having a complete team that can win in many different ways is the ultimate target for Newman if they are to finally win a state title.
“What we have to do achieve that level of excellence, one we have to play great defense, we have to run the football and we have to win upfront,” Stewart said. “We want to be old school.”
In fact, the most successful Greenie teams were not always the flashiest ones or ones that won with finesse. Those teams were the grinders that could scrap for every inch on the gridiron. Winning in the trenches is what has separated the good Newman teams from the great ones. This year’s team appears to have all the ingredients to do just that.
“Having been to the semifinals three of the past four seasons and after a close loss to LCA, we are very focused and determined to get better,” Stewart said.
Newman does not have that much farther to go to turn better into best.
Click here for more CCS Prep Football team previews (including archives of past season preview).
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