New Newport football coach will ‘make the kids accountable’

  • Newport's Josh Sharron moves past Mascoma's defense during a scrimmage in Hanover, N.H., on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/27/2019 10:03:55 PM

HANOVER — John Proper made his way around the football sidelines at Merriman-Branch Field with ease.

He paused a few times to talk with players, had a chat with an official before a scrimmage started, and had a brief conversation with his top assistant and confidant, Jeremy Willey, about when the Tigers were to take the field.

In each interaction on Saturday night, Proper, 41, never raised his voice. He didn’t swear when something went wrong on the field, and his thoughts were always planned.

At the Upper Valley Jamboree, Proper wore his white hat and black polo shirt — a uniform he’ll often don on Saturdays this fall when he attempts to turn around Newport High football.

And the way Proper acts is the way he expects his Tigers to act.

“We’re going to make the kids accountable,” he said. “You guys have to hold yourselves accountable. We talked about this the other day: When you’re out there, you represent Newport. When we have incidents that don’t make Newport look good, that’s not the tradition. The tradition is Newport has a strong football team.”

Since 1972, when the NHIAA adopted its playoff format, Newport has gone 260-170 (good for a .605 win percentage) and seven state championships.

But since coach Larry Carle resigned in November 2013, the Tigers have been on a rocky trajectory. They went undefeated and won the NHIAA Division III championship in 2015, but the season after produced a 5-4 record with a 46-20 loss to Bishop Brady in the quarterfinals.

In total, Newport has gone 34-16 since Carle resigned. Proper is the fourth coach in six seasons, and he takes over after a 1-8 record last year. The last time Newport had suffered a losing season prior to that was in 2004, when the Tigers finished 4-5.

Proper knows how big of a disappointment last season was because he helped set the bar of winning at Newport. As a 1996 graduate, he was an offensive lineman and defensive end on the Division IV state title team of 1995.

He’s also played a large role in the community. He’s helped coach a group of juniors on this roster since they were in second grade. Last season, he was the head coach of the junior varsity team, which went undefeated, and he was in the press box on a headset during varsity games.

Proper takes over a program filled with potential, in his opinion, but still much to prove.

The Tigers graduated six seniors and haven’t found an answer at quarterback as senior Austin Malool and junior Marius Edwards continued to exchange snaps throughout the jamboree.

The Tigers were outscored, 356-87, a year ago. While Proper’s offense needs to put more points on the board, the Tigers’ defense needs to force a few more stops.

That’s why he’s brought on Willey as his defensive coordinator and top assistant. One of Proper’s good friends, Willey was a year ahead of him at Newport and graduated in 1995. The two coached the second-graders together, and Willey played a large part of junior varsity’s success last season.

He’s invested in the long-term output, too. Willey and Proper know that things won’t change instantly, but they didn’t sign up for the job just because of the football.

“We’ve coached these kids since Little League T-ball,” Willey said. “We actually have a good relationship with these kids, so they’ll come to us with concerns that are outside of football. We know these kids really well.”

Jagger Lovely’s grown accustomed to the new set of rules under Proper, ones that are enforced on the football field and are meant to be carried off of it. They’re basic, but strict: Don’t swear. Be on time. Be responsible. Act like a gentleman.

Lovely, a junior running back, has been around Proper for most of his playing career.

He understands his new head coach’s rules because they’ re the qualities Proper has displayed throughout his coaching career.

Most importantly, he knows he isn’t asking for too much.

The four rules that Proper’s put in place are meant for Lovely and his teammates to learn quickly on the football field and to help Newport get back to its winning ways.

So far this preseason, the Tigers are learning a new defense and an offense similar to last season’s, but one with new terminology and a few more formations.

The start of Proper’s first campaign doesn’t lend itself to a first-year coach, either. Newport opens up the season with six straight games against Division III teams that made the playoffs last year.

“We’re trying to live up to the standard of Newport football, which is a pretty high standard,” Lovely said. “That’s what we’re just trying to do this year.”

Newport gathered around its first-year coach to hear him talk after the Tigers’ first jamboree scrimmage on Saturday, against Mascoma. With his ever-calm voice, Proper was content with Newport’s production. Lovely ran the ball well, and Willey’s defense made some sharp plays.

Still, the night was young. The Tigers would scrimmage two more times and have plenty to learn from by the end of the night.

A 1-8 finish can’t be in the cards again this season, and Proper knows it. But he’s not letting the pressure get to him because that won’t result in much good.

Instead, he’s soaking up the opportunity to be a head coach at his alma mater. And he’s going to do it the only way he knows how, by being a man of his word.

Pete Nakos can be reached at pnakos@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.




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