Newberry football preview

By Marty Pallman
Twitter – @mpallman

The ending wasn’t what Newberry High School wanted, but the 2019 football season saw the Panthers back in a familiar place: the FHSAA state playoffs.

After going 1-9 in 2018, Newberry let head coach Richard Vester go and promoted assistant coach Ed Johnson to the top job. Johnson had also been the head boys’ basketball coach at Newberry.

The turnaround was immediate last season.

After dropping their opener to rival Santa Fe (Alachua), the Panthers ran off nine wins in a row and earned the top seed in Region 4-1A.

After a bye in the opening week of the playoffs, Newberry opened up the postseason at home against Chiefland and quarterback Ty Corbin.

But Newberry lost a 13-point lead in the second half and saw its season come to an end with a stunning 20-19 loss to Chiefland.

As Coach Johnson enters his second season as the Panthers’ head coach, there is plenty of talent returning for 2020.

“Replacing four starters from defense, including three that made the all-state team will be crucial,” he said. “But with most starters returning, we’ll be a year smarter in our system, and plan on playing fast and physical.”

The Panthers will return seven starters on offense and seven on defense this season.

However, they will have to replace two all-state defensive players in defensive tackle Cedric Cohen and linebacker Eric Hester, who were the Panthers’ top two tacklers a year ago.

On offense, senior quarterback Makai Johnson is back after throwing for nine touchdowns and rushing for two more scores as a junior last season.
Coach Johnson expects Johnson’s play to be improved after a season of experience behind center, but the Panthers will have to break in a new group of receivers.

“We have to be better in the passing game to accomplish our ultimate goal,” said Coach Johnson.

Newberry should have a physical running game, and Coach Johnson is expecting the team to be faster on offense.

As far as the position battles go heading into fall camp, replacing all three linebacker positions as well as solidifying the offensive line will be what Coach Johnson is looking for when his Panthers hit the practice field.

“We will suffer from missing the spring where a lot of our young guys could have gotten a lot of reps,” he added. “But we’ll work to make sure we are ready to go come August.”

After a 2019 season in which the Panthers returned to the playoffs, more of the same is expected this season.

Coach Johnson says they “expect to make the playoffs and contend for a state championship every year in Newberry.”

School: Newberry High School
Coach & year: Ed Johnson (2nd year)
2019 record: 9-2
Number of returning offensive/defensive starters: 7 offense/7 defense
Key losses: Cedric Cohen (DT), Eric Hester (LB), JJ Harper (WR/P)
Key returning players (Name, position, year): Makai Johnson (QB, Sr.), Leontre Robinson (DE, Sr.), Munshae Lancaster (DE, Sr.), Harley Zilcosky (C, Sr.), Mason Markle (OG, Jr.), Chris Jonas (DB, Jr.), Lennie Boykin (OL,Jr.), Tyreke Williams (DB, Sr.), Thad Rucker (SS/OLB, Jr.)
Key newcomers (Name, position, year): Carson Price (TE/H-Back, Jr.), Malachi Jackson (DT, Jr.), Tre Butler (ATH., So.), Waylon Philpot (OL, Jr.)
Most important position battles heading into the fall: Replacing all three LB positions, and solidifying OL.
Outlook/expectations: Replacing 4 starters from defense, including 3 that made the all-state team will be crucial. But with most starters returning, we’ll be a year smarter in our system, and plan on playing fast and physical. On offense, we have to be better in the passing game to accomplish our ultimate goal. Will be breaking in a new group of WR’s, but QB play should be improved this season. We will still have a physical running game that we rely on, and will look to be faster on offense. We will suffer from missing the spring where a lot of our young guys could have gotten a lot of reps but we’ll work to make sure we are ready to go come August. We expect to make the playoffs and contend for a state championship every year in Newberry.

2020 Football Schedule
8/14 vs. Bradford (Starke), Kickoff Classic*
8/21 at Santa Fe (Alachua)*
8/28 at Hawthorne*
9/4 vs. Trenton*
9/11 vs. Union County (Lake Butler)*
9/18 vs. Taylor (Pierson), Homecoming*
9/25 at Williston*
10/1 vs. Hamilton County (Jasper)*
10/9 vs. Dixie County (Cross City)*
10/23 at Fort White*
10/30 at Paxon (Jacksonville), 7 p.m.

*7:30 p.m. kickoff time

Class 1A-Region 4 (Top 6 make playoffs)
Bronson
Chiefland
Crescent City
Fort Meade
Hawthorne
Newberry
Pahokee
Trenton
Wildwood
Williston