Alcoa assistant coach Brian Nix said he will be the first one to admit he was wrong about Major Newman.
A defensive coordinator for the most storied high school football program in Tennessee, Nix saw potential in Newman at linebacker ahead of the season. He just thought it would take the 5-foot-11, 175-pound sophomore another year to develop the physical strength to excel in that spot.
“If you told me he’d be our starting linebacker right now, I wouldn’t have thought that would be the case,” Nix said. “I did not think he was ready. He showed me, ‘I’m ready.’”
Newman got his chance to prove himself in the Tornadoes’ season opener after their starting linebacker went down with an injury in the middle of that game. Newman has been a force on their highly-touted defense ever since, joining senior defensive back Caden Tollett as one of Alcoa’s leaders in solo tackles.
Newman and Tollett are relatively new to the program, with Tollett transferring from Halls halfway through last season. On Friday at 3 p.m. CT, the pair will look to help the Tornadoes win their fifth straight state title when they face Pearl-Cohn in the Class 3A BlueCross Bowl at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.
“This is really my first year contributing,” Newman said. “It’s our fifth (consecutive) one, but this is really my first one I’ve been a part of. It’s just cool to try to help the seniors get their last win.”
Alcoa’s defense has shined all season, allowing fewer than five points a game. Newman and Tollett have played no small part in that success. Tollett leads Alcoa in solo tackles (42) and interceptions (five) while Newman has contributed 41 solo tackles while assisting on another 25.
Newman got thrown into the deep end early and with little warning. The Tornadoes’ first game of the season was at Blackman — a 6A program that advanced to the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
Newman didn’t see playing time last season, and he definitely didn’t expect to get any that day.
“I was joking with my parents, saying, ‘I’m not going to play, I’m not going to play,’” Newman said. “’I’m going to be on the sideline.’”
Then Alcoa’s junior inside linebacker Luke Summerall went down with a shoulder injury, thrusting Newman into the game against a team averaging almost 300 pounds across its offensive line.
“If I were going to pick a game for him to pop in and play, it definitely would not have been that one,” Nix said. “You talk about kids who are gamers, and that was one of those situations. He’s a sophomore. He’s not as big as the other guys. He’s definitely not as strong as the other guys. But he went in there and he made plays.”
Newman got on the field and immediately tackled Blackman for a two-yard loss. Alcoa won 23-14. Newman has been a starter ever since.
“He’s physical and really plays above probably what his physical capabilities say he should,” Nix said. “The way he works in the weight room, the strength will come.”
Like Newman, Tollett doesn’t have many years of experience playing for the Tornadoes. Unlike Newman, it didn’t take Nix long to recognize Tollett was going to be an instant game-changer.
“Now that’s one I got right from the beginning,” Nix said. “He does so much for us. I think he’s maybe one of, if not our best, all-around football player.”
Nix attributed Tollett’s success to his athleticism, body control as well as his versatility. Also a running back, Tollett has contributed 246 yards and seven touchdowns on 26 carries.
As a free safety, Tollett is usually the Tornadoes’ last line of defense. If he misses a tackle, odds are it will result in a touchdown.
Only four teams have found the end zone against Alcoa all season.
“I’m just trying to do whatever to help my team win,” Tollett said. “We didn’t work this hard to come up short. We’re looking to finish at the top.”