Players of the Pine Belt: Oak Grove senior E.J. Newell to anchor Warriors’ ground game

Players of the Pine Belt: Oak Grove senior E.J. Newell to anchor Warriors’ ground game

HATTIESBURG, Miss (WDAM) - For the past two seasons, E.J. Newell has been one of the guys in the backfield rotation at Oak Grove High School.

This fall, Newell is expected to have even a bigger role when it comes to the Warriors’ running game.

“He’s a heckuva running back,” Oak Grove coach Drew Causey said. “He’s played a lot for us the past two years, started some games. He’s gotten probably five to 15 carries in a game since he was a sophomore just about.

“He’s just a hard-working kid who gives a great effort every day. We’re expecting a lot of out of him.”

The 5-foot-6, 165-pound Newell said he is ready to step up.

“I’ve been vocal a little bit, but now I’m starting to get a bigger role,” Newell said. “We’ve all been working hard and we’re going to take what’s ours this season.”

Newell was a mainstay for a pair of Warriors’ teams that won 23 games over the two seasons and claimed back-to-back South State championships.

Newell’s numbers were similar those two seasons. He finished as Oak Grove’s third leading rusher, averaging 5.0-yards-a-carry as a sophomore and 4.8-yards-a-carry last season. He scored three touchdowns as a sophomore and two more as a junior.

In 2018, Oak Grove put the ball in the hands of dual-threat quarterback John Rhys Plumlee, who dominated the offense leading the Warriors in both passing and rushing.

Last year, Oak Grove turned to running back Nick Milsap to take the pressure off new quarterback Damon Stewart, who quickly flourished in the passing game.

This year, the ground game likely will be a bog focus as the Warriors turn to Stewart’s backup, Cade Barnett, to step into the starting role.

“He played in about five or six games last year, so he’s got a lot of experience,” Causey said.

But with Oak Grove returning four starting offensive lineman and an experienced back in Newell, the Warriors could start the season as a run-first unit.

“We’re expecting those guys to kind of take the lead on the offense until everybody can get settled in,” Causey said. “But we expect to compete.”

Newell said he has faith in the guys up front.

“I’ve been trusting them since like the ninth grade,” Newell said. “We’re like family.”

Newell said the Warriors want another shot at a state crown.

“I think we’re going to be great,” Newell said. “I think we’re going to be somebody to watch.”

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