By Kevin Connelly
Jon Culp got his first taste of what it’s like to be a head coach last season, as his Newton Falls Tigers finished 1-9.
That wasn’t what Culp had in mind, so he’s raised the expectation level.
“I told them the training wheels are off,” Culp said. “We have to clean up our habits and get rid of all the bad ones.”
He’s going to look toward on-field leaders Brandon Fuller and Derek Walton, to set the bar for everybody else.
“We know what our team has to expect and our team has to meet their expectations,” Culp said.
For a program that hasn’t seen the postseason since 2002, demanding improvement is where it all starts.
Fuller did the majority of his work rushing the football last season, accounting for 795 yards and eight TDs. The senior QB will be called upon to use his arm much more this year with several wide receivers returning this fall.
“We’re just trying to get pace, trying to get numbers,” Culp said. “We’re trying to get off as many plays as we can.”
Despite calling the Tigers a spread team, Culp plans to pound the ball between the tackles as much as he can. Walton, a senior who played mostly on the defensive side of the ball last year, said he’s prepared to be the workhouse.
His quarterback understands the importance of establishing a formidable ground game as well.
“Our line is key,” Fuller said. “They’re all returning this year, so I think if they can step up like they have been we’ll be fine.”
Senior Zack Battisti (6-foot-1, 275 pounds) is a three-year starter at guard.
Newton Falls allowed 240 rushing yards and 44 points per game last year.
Culp plans to shuffle in two different groups of linemen in hopes of cutting those numbers down.
“If you have fresh big kids for four quarters, you’ll be wearing down their big kids and that’s definitely an advantage,” Culp said.
With a 4-3 scheme, he’ll have to find more than a couple serviceable linemen. As a linebacker, Walton said he doesn’t mind plugging those holes either.
“With my aggressiveness and you know, love for hitting people, I don’t mind putting my nose in there,” he said.
Seniors Cody Peterson and Kayleigh Mitchell will assume the kicking responsibilites for the Tigers this season.
Newton Falls had 23 lettermen for the first time last year and with eight returning starters on offense, and six on defense, Culp is optimistic.
“We have glimpses,” Culp said of his team’s ability. “There are great athletes here. It’s just a matter of putting it together.”
Walton spoke about this year’s team with a sense of urgency in his voice.
“I really want to turn this program around and make it a football school,” Walton said.
Fuller, on the other hand, talked about leaving a legacy the program hasn’t had in a while.
“I really want to stick out in the history of Newton Falls and I think we honestly can,” he said.