New Coach Building Strong Foundation for Newport Football Program
The resurgence of the Newport Wildcats’ can be traced back to 2007.
The football team went 1-10 that year, the only victory coming against a Bishop Brossart team in its inaugural season of varsity football.
But also that year, further east along Kentucky Route 8, a junior at Dayton High School was thinking of pursuing coaching.
“My junior year of high school. That was the turning point when you realize you aren’t going to be the NFL player, the Division-1 kid. I had some good coaches from my high school when I went back to Dayton where I’m from and they impacted me to become a teacher and a coach,” said Joseph Wynn, now in his second year as head coach at Newport. “I always just wanted to be the best (as a player). I thought I was good, but I always wanted to be the best at something I do and that still holds true today; I want to be the best.”
The turnaround at Newport has been swift under Wynn. The Wildcats are 6-1 so far this season, equaling the total of wins last year, Wynn's first, when the team finished 6-5. But Wynn inherited a program that had gone 4-29 over its previous three seasons under former head coach Tim Viox, and coming off a second round of legal troubles for former head coach Matthew Schmitz, who resigned after being arrested for drug possession and public intoxication in 2015, and who was rehired in 2018 before being arrested on similar charges again.
Wynn then took the helm of the ailing Newport program.
The Wildcats' sole loss this season came in a thrashing against crosstown rival Newport Central Catholic, 37-6 on October 4.
New Cath head coach Stephen Lickert was on staff at Dayton when Wynn was dreaming of becoming a coach in 2007.
“He was really building that program and his last year at Dayton was my junior year. We were 6-5. That was the turning point. Seeing a guy like him being a young guy that can coach, he’s really impacted me more than anything else," Wynn said. "My senior year, coach (Zach) Deaton takes over and taught me more lessons about being humble and doing things the right way and we went 8-3 my senior year.”
That had been Dayton's best season since 1996.
After graduation, Wynn turned to Lickert for advice, and received a chance to start coaching.
“I was 17 years old. I turned 18 in August, so I started coaching when I was 17.”
Lickert was adamant that Wynn go to school and graduate before entering in the profession. “I got off track a little bit with those goals, but he stayed in my corner the whole time and stayed with me and helped me get through school,” Wynn said.
Once out of college, he joined Lickert’s staff at Campbell County and the duo stayed together for eight years. “He’s my mentor, he’s my guy. I can call him anytime I need something, even if we’re going to play (as opponents) that week, he’ll help me with whatever I need. He drove me to push through my goals and if it weren’t for him, I would not be here.”
But it’s not always about football to Wynn. “We have no eligibility issues with grades. We do study halls. So, the kids know that in order to do well on the field you have to do it in the classroom. Like every other high school, you have some of the hiccups that you deal with, but they understand and know the expectations and really rise to those expectations.”
Wynn is focused on building a foundation for a championship-caliber program at Newport.
“Last year and this year, we’ve started the foundation and we’re starting to build the house a little bit,” he said.
Wynn, 30, said last season was about getting to know the students, the players, and the school, and recruiting kids to the program.
When this season ends, Wynn will turn his focus to maintenance.
“Keeping the culture. Staying thirsty. Kids want to be a part of our program now so I think the biggest thing is where we’re at program-building, we are right on track to where we should be in year two," he said. "Year one, you kind of have the bumps but year three it's not smooth sailing but the expectations are set. My first class of freshmen will be juniors next year and they have experienced only winning. Our sophomores next year will only know winning. Our middle school team will only see the varsity team winning and they become freshmen.”
But this season isn't over yet, and Newport has one of the best records in all of Kentucky Class 2A.
Wynn sensed the team would be special earlier this year, in February, when some players started to lift weights earlier than before, a trend that had not been seen in Newport for a while.
“Eight of our eleven starters are in the 800-pound club and they’ve never been in a consistent weight room. They haven’t been dedicated to the off-season. All of our upperclassman guys and varsity guys have really taken that step to really understanding that the weight room helps on the field,” he said, noting that senior running back Giaunte Jackson has gone from 185-to-200 pounds while cutting his time from 4.9 to 4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
Seniors Torell Martin and Joey Sheffel have exemplified the new atmosphere within the team, the coach said.
“We’ve definitely grown,” said Sheffel, a first-year member of the team. “(Wynn) definitely embraces a relationship with the kids, he gets to know the kids a lot more, so I think that helps."
“Coach Wynn is a great leader for us,” Martin said. “He’s from Dayton, so he really knows what he’s talking about when it comes to connecting with the kids and he knows what he’s talking about on the field, too.”
“I told our kids one day you really want to be the best you can be in life. Some of our kids are going to be an engineer…It’s like, I want to be better than Vince Lombardi, you know? I want to climb the mountain so why not strive and be the best? And that’s what I’ve told our kids, too, is you never know where you are going to end up so why not be the best,” Wynn said.
Newport has three regular-season games remaining starting Friday night at home against Lloyd before finishing with visits to Holy Cross and Beechwood.
Written by Jason Finnell, RCN contributor
Photo: Newport players during game against Bishop Brossart in 2019 (Brian Frey/RCN file)