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Newport Wildcats Hope to Build On Last Year's Late Season Momentum

Newport High School football coach, Matt Schmitz has a lot to think about for the upcoming season. There are logistics to finalize, practices to organize and strategies to perfect. One thing Schmitz doesn't need to worry about, though, are the individuals on his practice field coming together as a team.

“We all got really close, really quickly last year due to some personal circumstances,” Coach Schmitz told The River City News.

Schmitz took over the head coaching spot at Newport in June of last year. While he was in the midst of putting his staff together, he and his father, Bill, would work with his team during summer practices. Then, after the team's first game, Schmitz' father passed away.

“The kids got to know him,” Schmitz said of his dad. “They kind of went through that with me and like I said, we got really close really quick, and it has carried over through the offseason.”

It was a rough start to the season in many ways. Not only did tragedy strike the team, the Wildcats dropped their first four games of the season and times looked tough. The fifth loss, however, galvanized their team and became the turning point of the season.

Newport lost to state powerhouse, Mason County, who went undefeated in their regular season, but the score was only 17-12 in the end and the Wildcats had played well.

“That was a point where we all looked at each other and said 'we're doing the right thing, it's about to turn around,' and right after that game, we won five of our last six games,” Coach Schmitz explained.

This year, the team is more experienced, with a fourth of the roster returning as seniors. Having gone through the emotional ups and downs of a year ago, the veteran squad is poised to take the next step.

“We don't just want to rely on talent alone, but rather realize that if you want to take the next step as a program, then we need to take the next step in preparation, practice, and things like that because nothing is given to you,” said Schmitz.

The talent is certainly in place, especially in the ground game. The tandem of bruising senior running back, Dominick Joseph, coupled with the speedy and agile junior running back, Tyree Bolden, has prompted the coaching staff to nickname the pair Thunder and Lightning.

“Tyree doesn't like to be called lightning because he want's to be thunder too,” Schmitz joked.

The two are expected to be featured in a run-heavy offense, that should also include junior quarterback, Paul Price. Price was the team's leading receiver a year ago, but Schmitz calls him the team's best athlete and wanted to maximize that athleticism at quarterback. The head coach also called his offensive line the strength of the team.

On defense, the Wildcats keep it simple. Based out of a 3-4 set, the coaches have decided to put less on the player's plate and allow them to use their instincts.

“We don't blitz very much, we just let our kids line up and play fast and play physical,” explained Schmitz. “Late in the year we started playing really good defense and as coaches we got real simple with it and just trusted our kids to go play.”

Yet, while the talent may be easy to identify, the depth of the team remains a concern for Schmitz and his staff. Because the roster is composed of fewer players than what they'd like, the team worries some about overusing the same players all the time.

“We don't have a lot of numbers. A few bad injuries here and there, and we would have to get really creative as coaches.”

Also related to the concern around depth is general team conditioning. It seems logical that the less players a team has, the more snaps those players have to play, so it becomes important for the staff to recognize, install and develop good backups where they can.

“Conditioning is not punishment. They just have to look around,” Schmitz said of his players. “A lot of these guys are going to be playing both ways. We try to be smart. The guys we know are going to be playing both ways, we want to have a solid backup for them that can come in and spell them for 15 or 20 snaps a game, and that's what we try to do as coaches. Conditioning is a little bit more crucial when you don't have 80 people on your roster.”

Conditioning will indeed be important when facing some of the more challenging games on the schedule. When asked, Schmitz immediately pointed out the first game of the season: a revenge match against Mason County. Another highlight on the schedule is the regular-season finale against Holmes.

“We close out every year against Holmes. Our kids and their kids know each other well. I really like what (Ben Nevels) is doing over there,” Schmitz said of the Bulldogs program. “That's a rivalry that I guess went away for a while because of other reasons but Coach Nevels and I have agreed that we want to do it every year while we're here and we've already signed on to play again in 2015 and '16.”

And of course, no Newport football schedule would be complete with their crosstown rivals, Newport Central Catholic. According to Schmitz, it's been at least 14 years since the Wildcats have beaten NCC, but that does not mean they intend on laying down and taking another loss this season.

“Like I told my kids, those 14 years have nothing to do with 2014.”

So while the Wildcats have a lot more to learn from their coaches, the ones that were there last year, need no reminder of the season that brought them so close to one another as people.

“Those that have joined the team, whether it's been transfers or just kids in the school that want to come out, they kind of have to get in or get out, because the kids that were with us last year know that we do things in a family-like atmosphere.”

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Written by Bryan Burke, RCN Staff Writer

Photo: Newport High School Football Field/via the high school