Experience In The Backfield

Two of the three members of Newton-Conover’s offensive backfield are back for their senior season, and they are two important members. Running back Octavius Harden and fullback Jamal Coates return with one season of varsity experience for the Red Devils.

“Having me and him back is good,” Coates said. “It means we are both experienced and know what to do when we get into the first game.”

Their first game last season was somewhat rough. The Red Devils had trouble fumbling the ball in wet conditions against the East Lincoln Mustangs, but they still left with an eight-point win. The Red Devils rode Shuford and Coates last season to their second-straight appearance in a state football championship game. The pair combined for more than 2,800 yards rushing and 30 rushing touchdowns.

“That means experience, it means speed, and it means the ability to execute,” Newton-Conover coach Nick Bazzle said. “Both of those kids have three years of playing in this offense, and we feel really good about having them.”

There is a newcomer this year to the Red Devils’ backfield. Cameron Shuford, an athletic senior, backed up to Sam Royall last season and played mostly as a defensive back. Shuford said he needs to keep his head straight in preparing for the upcoming season, and he added having Harden and Coates relieves some stress for a lot of people because they already know the offense.

Shuford also brings two things to the Red Devils’ offense this season.

“If he executes, he brings another run threat,” Bazzle said. “He is probably the fastest quarterback we’ve had here in a while, and he has an added dimension than other quarterbacks we’ve had in the past. That is a good, accurate arm.”

Newton-Conover, however, has one returning offensive lineman this season and 13 listed on its 35-man roster. Senior Mike Comer is the only offensive or defensive lineman with varsity game experience, and he is also fresh on the field this summer. Comer is recovering from a back injury, and he was cleared before the start of contact practice.

“If we can get the line going, it will be a whole heck of a lot better if we get everyone going in the same direction,” Bazzle said. “If we get some good lineman and some good backs, we know we won’t have to run sweeps 15 times a game.”