By Jordan Burton (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
East Newton has a new sheriff in town and it’s a name that should be familiar in Big 8 circles.
Kyle Wood takes over after spending last season at Neosho, but prior to that he spent a total of 12 years between Cassville and Monett. He won a pair of state championships at Cassville and was on staff for Monett’s title run in 2016.
He was also a two-time Big 8 Baseball Coach of the Year at Cassville.
His experience, both on the gridiron and diamond, has helped shaped his coaching philosophy.
“The thing that I have focused on the most is expressing expectations for our program as a whole to all of our athletes,” said Wood. “Once the expectations are communicated it is my job to make sure everyone (including myself) are striving to meet or exceeding those expectations. Meeting the expectations that I have set doesn’t happen overnight, it is a process and one that requires some real focus every day.
“There have been set backs during the summer and there will be set backs during the season, but the focus on finding ways to meet the expectations has helped a lot.”
He inherits a program that has struggled on the football field for nearly the last decade.
The Patriots have won multiple games in a season just once since 2010. Since then, they’ve had five winless seasons and zero seasons over .500.
They’ll enter this fall with a 22-game losing streak.
The good news is Wood returns 14 total starters from last year’s team and a renewed energy to right the direction of the program.
It’ll start with senior Jeremiah Stewart. As a junior, he passed for nearly 1,000 yards at quarterback and also started at safety.
Wood has liked what he’s seen from Stewart.
“Jeremiah has taken the role of our starting quarterback very serious,” said Wood. “He has had a great summer, seems to really taken to the leadership role as a quarterback and you can tell he wants to have a good year. He gives great effort and asks good questions, and seems to have a nice handle on what we have put in offensively so far. He had great attendance all summer and really has put in the work to have a good year for us.”
Classmate Samuel Stewart is back after being a two-way starter last season. He’s the team’s returning tackle leader at 78. Classmate Ryan Millett will split reps at running back with Stewart. Both will also anchor the linebacking corps.
“Sam has had a really good summer as well,” said Wood. “Very physical, very strong. We look for him to be right in the middle of our defense at middle linebacker and run sideline to sideline. Sam has a good nose for the ball and should be our leader defensively. Offensively he will split time at running back with Ryan Millett. We feel really confident with either one of them running the ball.
“Ryan played a lot of offensive positions last year, but we look for him to be just play running back this year on O. He is a big, fast physical kid that plant and get downhill in a hurry. Defensively we plan to use him as an outside linebacker and with his size and speed, we feel like he can cause some serious issues for opposing offenses.”
Seniors Austin Brewster and Wyatt Moore will start at receiver and also see time in the secondary. Classmate Jackson Schriever is another returning starter and will see reps at wing back and in the defensive backfield. Seniors Zeke Chiles and Colten Leech will anchor the defensive line. They combined for 97 tackles last season.
Wood is also excited about the return of senior Toukheng Xiong. He will be another player that could make an impact on both sides of the ball.
“Toukheng is going to be huge for us in the secondary at corner,” said Wood. “He has no fear and really good feet and is not afraid to be physical. He will also have a bigger role offensively then he has in the past because of his athleticism. He will play a wing position and gives us another threat in the backfield.”
Junior Noah Brashers is the lone returning underclassman starter defensively.
Quintyn Lewis and Justice Bowman could see reps at a variety of skill positions.
Wood is excited about Nathan Sanders and Colin Farley, who will make an immediate impact as two-way linemen.
Sophomores Kaden Burbridge and Elijah Mojica will also see reps on the offensive line.
After nearly 15 years as an assistant and familiarity with the Big 8, now was the time for Wood to take over his own program.
He understands the challenges of being competitive in the league and the struggles East Newton has had.
He believes there’s no better time than now to take over the program.
“I am as focused and driven as I have ever been in my career,” said Wood. “I appreciate the opportunity and feel like I can get East Newton going in a better direction then the last few seasons. This is a proud school that at one point had a proud football heritage and we are going to work to see if we can start working back to that. I felt like I was ready to be a head football coach, it was always my goal and it just seemed to be the right time and place.
“Being in the Big 8 for so long, I always saw East Newton kids compete and get after it every Friday. That’s a great place to start when building a football team. I am going to expect that toughness week in and week out because are going to need it to get going in a better direction.”
East Newton will open the 2019 season at home against Hollister on Aug. 30.