SOUTHINGTON >> Arkeel Newsome will put on an Ansonia jersey for the final time tonight. It will mark the end of arguably the most illustrious high school football career this state has ever seen.
Newsome enters the Class S state championship game against rival Woodland with career totals of 10,413 rushing yards, 183 touchdowns and 1,136 points, all state records. Kickoff is set for 7:05 p.m. at Central Connecticut State’s Arute Field.
“It’s been remarkable,” Ansonia coach Tom Brockett said. “I think you can always argue and talk about teams and players, and different times and different eras, but I think what he’s done, statistically, you can’t argue. It’s the greatest career in the history of Connecticut high school football. And the way he’s handled himself, he’s been so humble and hard-working; he’s just gone about his business every single week. When you coach a kid like that, and the success he’s had, I don’t think I could be more proud of him and the effort he has put in. He’s worked very hard for everything he’s gotten, and he deserves it.”
The end of the Newsome era will occur sometime after 9 tonight. Preparing for the Hawks, who Ansonia defeated 48-7 for the Naugatuck Valley League championship on Nov. 20, has left little time for Newsome to reflect on past accomplishments.
“Not yet,” said Newsome when asked if he’s thought about his final game. “I’ll probably be thinking about it before the game. It came fast.”
There’s more pressing issues on Newsome’s mind, like leading the Chargers to a third straight state title. Ansonia (14-0), ranked No. 1 in the Register Top 10 Poll, will also bid to become the first team in state history to win 15 games in a season. The Chargers, who have won 42 straight, own 18 titles in 26 championship game appearances, both state records, since the implementation of a playoff system in 1976.
“To end with three state titles, it would mean a lot,” Newsome said. “That’s what we’re definitely going for, me and the whole senior class. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
While Newsome’s last game is certainly noteworthy, there’s other interesting subplots to this contest. For the fourth time, Ansonia will play a fellow Valley school for a state championship. The Chargers defeated Derby for the Class S title in 1976 and 1982 and Seymour for the Class M crown in 1979.
“I think anytime you get involved with Valley football, it’s fun,” Brockett said, “and now we’re doing it for a state championship. We’re looking forward to it. The Valley games are always great.”
Woodland, located in Beacon Falls, became a varsity program in 2002, a year after the school opened. The Hawks (12-2) are making their third trip to a state final after winning back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005.
“Obviously it hasn’t been a rivalry like Derby and Seymour based on the short existence of the school,” Brockett said. “But they’ve been a great program with a great tradition. Their body of work speaks for itself.”
Despite its rather brief history, Woodland is similar to other Valley programs in both style and approach to the game. The Hawks, a hard-working, blue-collar team, are certainly proud of their roots.
“Everywhere you go, when people say, ‘You’re from there?’ you tend to stand a little taller and say, ‘Yeah, I’m from there,’” Woodland coach Tim Shea said. “I’m sure the Ansonia guys say the same thing. It’s a Valley game, it just happens to be played at Central this year. We’re very familiar with each other, and it’s something we’re looking forward to.”
The championship game also holds special meaning for Woodland for another reason. Quarterback Tanner Kingsley hopes to win a state title with the Hawks just like his older brothers, Cody and Shane. Both of Kingsley’s brothers are now Woodland assistants. Growing up, the Kingsleys played youth football in Seymour, and Tanner had aspirations that he could duplicate the success his brothers achieved at Woodland.
“When the school opened up, we knew we would be going to Woodland,” Tanner said, “and we knew we would have to start our own legacy for Valley football, and they did that for us.
“Growing up my whole life, this was my dream, to play in a game like this. And Friday night we have to make it happen.”