Loachapoka Has Championship Expectations
BY WIL CREWS
The ‘Poka way is being reestablished. Entering head football coach Reco Newton’s third year, Loachapoka is looking to continue its recent record of progression, going from 5-6 in Newton’s first year in 2020, to 6-4 in 2021.
Both of the previous two years, however, Loachapoka has flopped out of the playoffs in the first round. According to Newton, that is no longer acceptable. The goal in 2022 is a state championship.
“If we don’t win a state championship this year it’s a failure,” Newton said. “We are here to win a state championship. I tell my kids that every day.”
Since Newton arrived in 2020, the AHSAA Class 1A Loachapoka — a school which registers just over 100 students — has found a new commitment to greatness through his teachings.
“It has been a lot of dedication, grinding and hard work,” one player said of the changes he saw when Newton took over the head coaching job. “When he came in, he instilled that we are a family. Through everything, it’s going to be hard. But he’s teaching us more than just about football, it’s about life and becoming a man.”
A new field house, weight room, film room, sound system, press box and field improvements are further contributing factors towards Newton and Loachapoka’s renewed sense of confidence.
“Our program is all about putting our student-athletes in the best environment possible,” said Athletic Director and Principal Albert Weeden Jr.
According to Newton, Loachapoka has a roster compiled of 27 student-athletes as of now. A team which employs so few numbers has contributed to the sense of togetherness and commitment that Newton’s team possesses heading into 2022.
“Us as a team, we grind it out and we act like a family,” said one player. “It’s more than football to us. Our coaches are trying to teach us about our [school’s] history, more on the ‘Poka way and how we discuss it on the field and during practice. We want to demonstrate it with tough love, as our coaches say. Even if we have to get on each other, at the end of the day, we still come together as a family.”
Increased expectations mean increased pressure for Loachapoka in 2022. However, Newton’s motivation to make his team better than ever is spurred on by his love for his players and by great community support.
“The motivation comes from the kids,” Newton said. “Another great thing is the community we have at Loachapoka. We have a great community, leaders and great people who do a great job supporting us. That’s the greatest thing about being at Loachapoka.”
More attention than perhaps usual has been spotlighted on Loachapoka this offseason, in part due to the acclaim garned — both academically and athletically — by defensive back J.C. Hart. With 24 scholarship offers to play at the next level, and an academic resume that has Hart set up to be the valedictorian of his class, Hart is pushing “The ‘Poka Way” to new heights.
“He really brings the identity that small schools matter,” Newton said on Hart. “Having kids like that brings awareness to your program. He brings awareness to the academics too. He’s a 4.2 student, and No. 1 in his class right now. A kid like that, with academics and athletics both highly ranked, only comes around once in a while. So we are very blessed to have [him] on our football team.”
Hart sets an example for other teammates to live by. Belief, support and care from the coaching staff, and the recognition Hart is receiving, is further validation for his teammates who are trying to make a name for themselves and the ‘Poka brand.
“I’ve been at ‘Poka since the fourth grade,” said another player. “This is one of the best all-Black coaches programs that I have ever seen. It’s like a college program. We eat right, we practice right. The coaches have shown me how football can get me out of the ordinary, and show that it can lead to a new path for everybody. You don’t even have to be an athlete, just if you put your heart and mind into something with all passion, it can change your life forever. Newton and the rest of the coaches showed me that if I can put my heart and soul into football, that can change our lives forever.”
Loachapoka kicks off its season in the Kickoff Classic on Aug. 20 — a double header of football matchups with Loachapoka facing off against LaFayette, and Lanett facing Notasulga.
“It’s an opportunity and a chance to bring all communities together,” Newton said.
With a revamped coaching staff full of alumni and former proffesionals, Loachapoka, Newton and company will hope to start the season on the right foot to achieve greatness — both on and off the field, in 2022.
“Very excited about the year,” Newton said. “We have a saying at Loachapoka High School about the ‘Poka Way. This year we are adding to that by saying it’s only one way — the ‘Poka Way. What that means is when you get on the field, you have to dominate your opponent. And there is only one way that can happen, is by doing right in the weight room and also in the classroom. And that is something we preach at Loachapoka High School — academics. Without academic success, you can’t learn the football plays. If you can’t learn in the classroom in that situation, how are you going to learn when the band is playing, when the fans are yelling at you and everything else going on in that situation?”