By CHRIS HOBBS
NEWTON-CONOVER RED DEVILS
Conference: South Fork 2A.
Head coach: Steven Pack (2-9, 1 year; first year at Newton-Conover).
Last season’s records: 9-3 overall; 6-1 South Fork 2A, second place
Last season’s results: Bunker Hill, W 51-0; at Hickory, W 45-26; at E. Burke, W 44-6; at Hibriten, L 17-18; LINCOLNTON, W 35-14; at BANDYS, W 55-7; W. LINCOLN, W 58-8; at LAKE NORMAN CHARTER, W 63-7; N. LINCOLN, W 49-6; at MAIDEN, L 27-30; E. LINCOLN, W 39-21. Playoffs: at Shelby, L 20-49.
SCHOOL FOOTBALL HISTORY
Last season in state playoffs: 2017, 2AA.
Last state playoff victory: 2012 d. Ashe County 49-0, first round.
All-time state playoff bids: 28.
Conference titles (or shares) since 1980, last: 15, 2012 Catawba Valley Athetic 2A (share).
BY THE NUMBERS
Returning starters: 13.
Returning lettermen: 15.
Returning starters: 6.
Leading returning rusher: Allen Wilfong, 5-11, 210, Jr. (24-176, 4 TDs).
Leading returning passer: Brendan Barlow, 6-0, 175, Sr. (2-5-0, 24, no TDs).
Leading returning receiver: Kyjuan McClain, 5-9, 175, Sr. (43-585, 6 TDs).
Other key returnees: Jaden Adair, 6-1, 285, OL, Sr.; Jalen Corpening, 6-0, 260, OL, Sr.; Garrett Kurz, 6-1, 265, OL, Jr.; Jackson Ammons, 6-1, 265, OL, Soph.; Josh Nichols, 5-9, 178, WR, Jr.; Brandon Johnson, 6-0, 160, WR, Soph.
Top newcomers: Ryan Walker, 5-9, 235, OL, Soph.
Returning starters: 7.
Players to watch: Jayden Adair, 6-1, 285, DL, Sr.; Jalen Corpening, 6-0, 260, DL, Sr.; Cameron Forney, 5-11, 70, Safety, Sr.; Chris Clark, 5–8, 235, NG, Sr.; Kylan Bradshaw, 6-0, 240, LB, Jr.; Allen Wilfong, 5-11, 210, OLB, Jr.; Qualen Noell, 6-1, 200, DE, Sr.; Kevin Covington, 6-0, 165, Safety, Soph.
There will be lots of eyes on the Red Devils, who are coming off a nine-win season and have a new head coach, Steven Pack.
Pack comes in from North Lincoln — where his Knights won two games a year ago — to replace Matt Beam. He worked with Beam as an assistant coach and previously spent time on Beam’s coaching staff at Newton-Conover before going back to Burns and then to North Lincoln.
Beam did not leave a bare cupboard – there’s always talent in the red, black and white – but the Red Devils did lose three key pieces of their promising future when QB Shamar Baker (Mallard Creek), WR Myles Baker (Hough) and WR Jaheim Mullen (Hunter Huss) all left and are now playing elsewhere.
Part of Pack’s challenge, including small numbers (27), is to get his players focused much more on who is there than who is not.
That can be challenging, but the yardage the Bakers and Mullen provided was substantial and that production has to come from somewhere: Shamar Baker ran for 539 yards and would have been the top returning passer in the South Fork 2A (2,525 yards, 26 TDs); Myles Baker had 152 rushing yards and 29 catches for 541 yards, 3 TDs) and Mullen would have been the best returning WR in the league (56-924 yards, 13 TDs).
Newton-Conover returns 13 starters – 6 on offense, 7 on defense – and will rely on WR Kyjuan McClain as a playmaker and on tackles Jaden Adair and Jalen Corpening, both all-league last year, to anchor the offense.
With Shamar Baker gone, QB becomes a who-will-it-be? position that will surely impact how good the Red Devils can be this season.
Senior Ben Barlow is the only QB listed by Pack on a preseason form. Barlow threw five passes last season, completing two for 24 yards.
Defense is where the Red Devils may show the most improvement, as three linemen, a linebacker and a nose guard are among the seven returning starters.
In a preseason response to HobbsDailyReport.com, Pack said having playmakers in space, a good RB and experience on the offensive and defensive fronts are going to be strengths. Having a new secondary and no depth on the offensive and defensive fronts were his concerns.
“We will have to stay healthy and be in good shape,” he said. “Our first unit is as talented as anyone around. We will have to have strong senior leadership to develop some of the young guys we are counting on.”
In a lot of ways, that could be the deciding factor for the Red Devils … they can control their own destiny by making things fit (talent and potential) and overcoming a varsity roster of fewer than 30 players.
The season may again not turn out to reach the expectations – they are always sky high among Newton-Conover fans – because, on paper, the Red Devils were being mentioned among the state’s best 2A teams for 2018 with the Bakers and Mullen in the lineup.
You have to dance with what brung ya.
That’s going to make the Red Devils fun to watch because if they make it all work, they’ll contend again for a conference title.