STERLING – One of the hardest things for a high school football team to do last year was score against the Newman Comets.
The Newman defense shut out Morrison and Kewanee in back-to-back weeks, had another 3-week stretch of holding Princeton, Sherrard and Hall to a touchdown each, and opened the postseason by holding Clifton Central scoreless until the final play of the game.
Even when Newman was eliminated in the postseason, it was in a 14-12 loss in the 2A quarterfinals against Deer Creek-Mackinaw. The Chiefs averaged close to 50 points per game in their other 13 games on the way to a state championship.
The Comets allowed just 125 points in 12 games last year, many of those points late in the fourth quarter of games that had already been decided.
And that defense could be even tougher this year.
“We’re looking pretty sharp so far,” senior defensive lineman Trevor Buser said. “I think we’re getting it a little faster than last year.”
The Comets bring back most of the vaunted defense, only looking to fill in a few holes left by the graduations of Jacob Neisewander and Aaron Scroggins from the defensive line, Nate Olson from the linebacking corps, and Eli Leffelman from the secondary.
“Really we’re missing the middle of our defense:
the nose guard, our middle linebacker and our safety, who were all really good players,” Newman coach Mike Papoccia said. “We’ve got to find replacements for them. The rest of the kids are basically back. We started two sophomores last year at inside backers and they did a great job, and they’ll be even tougher this year.”
One of the keys to the Newman defense in 2016 was the linebacking corps, a group laden with sophomores last fall who return with experience and high expectations this season.
Luke Olson and Chase
Graham are back after
starting as sophomores last year. Also returning is senior Brentin Erickson.
“Those kids know what they’re doing a lot more now, and they don’t have the jitters of being young kids,” Papoccia said. “They’ve got a lot of seasoning, so they should know what they’re doing and go at it.”
That group of linebackers has developed into one Erickson is proud of.
“The sophomores that came up, they were already really talented, but they were pushed by the upperclassmen,” he said. “Everyone working together, pushing each other, that’s what I like.”
On the defensive line, the Comets will look to plug in a talented junior class that offers a lot of depth.
“They’ve got to push themselves,” Luke Olson said. “They’ve been doing it in practice, and they just have to keep working.”
The new class of linemen will work to fill the void left by Scroggins and Neisewander. Scroggins was a 3-year starter for the Comets, with Neisewander starting his junior and senior seasons. They may be gone, but the example they left behind remains with those who will try to earn those spots on the line.
“Those guys worked extremely hard,” junior lineman Drew Ackman said. “They weren’t huge guys; they were quick and stuck to their fundamentals and gave it all they’ve got.”
Speed and fundamentals fit the mold Papoccia likes to see on his defensive line, though this year’s group offers some versatility.
“With our defense, they have to be mobile and be pretty tough kids taking on double-teams and stuff,” Papoccia said. “We’ve got some nice-sized kids. We can go heavier kids or quicker kids. I like the quicker kids. I think we have enough depth that we can get the job done.”
Newman’s defense was able to get the job done and then some last season – and that could have been just a warm-up.