By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
SAVANNAH – It won’t be long before former South Effingham standout Makenly Newbill and his Savannah State University teammates report to football camp during the first week of August.
About a month later, the Tigers kick off the season Sept. 3 against Southeastern University.
But Newbill, a senior defensive end, gets a jump on thinking and talking football when he participates in the 2022 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Football Media Day todayat the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta.
Every football-playing school in the conference will have players and their head coaches available for media at the event. Preseason honors and rankings accompany the activities.
“I’ll be representing my teammates, my school and my hometown so it’s an honor and it’s humbling,” Newbill said.
There’s a lot to talk about. After last season’s 8-2 record – the first eight-win season at SSU since 1994 – head coach Shawn Quinn left to take an assistant job at Virginia Tech. Aaron Kelton, a defensive assistant from Howard University, stepped into the top spot.
Wonder what the media might ask Newbill.
“I have a good relationship with (Kelton) and I think our goals are on the same page,” Newbill said. “I’m not satisfied (with 2021) because we were one game short of the playoffs. We’ll have a new team because a lot of players left (through graduation and the transfer portal), but coach Kelton is doing a good job recruiting.”
Defense keyed the Tigers’ 2021 success and Newbill, who relies on quickness and anticipation, played a big part as a starter on the four-man front.
Among 169 Division II football teams, SSU ranked sixth in total defense (249.8 yards a game), ninth in passing yards allowed (145.2 yards a game) and 19th in scoring defense (allowing 17.6 points a game).
Take away two games and the Tigers’ defense surrendered less than 12 points a contest during the remaining eight games, which would have ranked second in the country behind Albany State.
Newbill, a 6-foot-2, 240-pounder, was named to the SIAC all-conference team after leading SSU with 10 tackles for losses (29 tackles and 3.5 sacks overall) despite being slightly undersized in the trenches.
He was the conference’s Player of the Week after recording 2.5 tackles for losses, a sack and four total tackles in a 49-14 homecoming win against Clark Atlanta on Oct. 16.
Newbill displayed similar versatility and athleticism at South Effingham High School. In football, he appeared comfortable playing on the line or roaming sideline to sideline at linebacker.
“We had a great coaching staff at South Effingham and I learned the “whys” of defense,” Newbill said. “Once I understood the “why,” it wasn’t hard to do my job.”
He also played basketball, averaging a double-double as a senior.
On one memorable day in January, Newbill did double duty – playing in an all-star football game during the day before hustling back to compete in a basketball game later in the evening.
He earned a football scholarship to Valdosta State University. But when his mother Vanessa, was stricken with COVID-19, Newbill and his brother Makenzy (a linebacker at Shorter University) returned home to help.
“She’s doing much better now,” Makenly said.
Newbill now has high hopes of a memorable senior year at SSU. He expects to earn his degree in criminal justice in December.
And football? He says his goal is to help the team win a conference championship and get to the Division II playoffs.
Newbill didn’t have specific individual goals for the season. But he'll have an answer for Media Day.
“My goal is always to elevate and go as far as God wants to take me,” he said.