Even though Fort Valley State finished second in the SIAC, Trent Newton views the season as one to forget.
“Whatever you heard about Fort Valley State, you can burn up the piece of paper and forget about it,” said Newton, an all-conference linebacker. “This is a new team, a new program and we’re highly recruited. Just expect a great outcome. We’re ready.”
The Wildcats didn’t meet their goal of winning the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference last season. It was a year of highs and lows, the team losing three straight games at one point before winning four in a row.
Fort Valley State finished with a 6-5 record overall, 6-3 in the conference — tied with Morehouse and Albany State.
But the winning season wasn’t enough for Deondri Clark to stick around. Last November, he resigned as coach to move to the university’s health and physical education department.
Now Donald Pittman, who was the offensive coordinator at Albany State for seven seasons, steps in as Fort Valley State’s new coach. He was also the offensive coordinator and running back coach at Texas A&M-Kingville for 15 years.
Newton believes Pittman’s postseason experience with Albany State can help Fort Valley State get there, too. With the Wildcats returning most of their starters from last season, he believes they have a chance to reach the Division II playoffs.
“Coach Pittman has been there before,” said Newton, who led the team with 95 tackles and four sacks. “He’s tasted the playoffs and that’s someone we want to taste, too. We have a lot of talent on both side of the ball, especially on defense.”
The Wildcats return a defense loaded with speed. It was one of the major reasons Fort Valley State forced more turnovers than any team in the SIAC — 18 fumble recoveries and 20 interceptions.
Pittman expects all-conference defensive lineman Robert Jackson and defensive back Darnell Burks to help Newton on defense.
“We have size, speed and toughness,” the first-year coach said. “On defense, we have what it takes to make big plays.”
On offense, it’s a different story. Though Fort Valley State scored over 30 points three times, including a 59-point outburst against Kentucky State, the offense ranked next-to-last in total yards.
The Wildcats didn’t even have a receiver rank in the top 10 in the conference. They also placed in the bottom half of the league in scoring, rushing and pass offense.
If Fort Valley State expects to win the SIAC and reach the postseason, Pittman knows the offense has to be more productive. He hopes running back Denzel Wesley and Ricardo Lockett can bring balance.
Newton believes the defense can carry them.
“No one is really a factor right now,” he said. “All we’re thinking about is playoffs and championships. No disrespect to other teams, but we’re looking at the big picture, which is winning a championship.”