Newell eyes big season

YOUNGSTOWN — Not many people can boast the kind of senior year that Malachi Newell had at Farrell High School.

The linebacker ranked No. 1 in the state of Pennsylvania and fourth in the nation in tackles with 230. Yes, that’s 230 tackles in one season. That would be a good career for most players. Newell added 16.5 tackles-for-loss, 13 forced fumbles, four interceptions and 3.5 sacks … and that’s just defense.

Throw in 643 yards and 11 TDs rushing along with 470 yards and four scores receiving, not to mention a trip to the state championship game, and it equates to one heck of a final high school season.

The motivation behind that relentless style of play was simple.

“I wanted a Division I scholarship and to get to state,” Newell said, “so I just went out there and played.”

Newell got both his wishes.

While his Farrell Steelers came up short in the title game, Newell’s spectacular season caught the attention of the Youngstown State University football coaching staff. He earned that scholarship, and now he’s trying to earn playing time.

The 6-foot, 200-pound Newell wasn’t given a redshirt as a true freshman, earning time as a special teams player and garnering 15 tackles. Now a sophomore, Newell is looking for more, and as usual, he plans on earning it.

“It’s always been my dream to play Division I football,” he said. “I love the game, and I just want to be the best at it. Seeing my teammates from last year, Derek Rivers and Avery Moss, get a chance to get drafted, it just drives me toward my dream too. Every morning I wake up, I know I have to work hard because I want to accomplish the same things they did.”

Newell is trying to break in at linebacker, arguably the Penguins’ strongest returning position when they break camp in less than three weeks. YSU linebacker Armand Dellovade is an all-conference player, and fellow starter Lee Wright was one of the Penguins’ best defensive players in 2015 before an off-the-field incident resulted in an 11-game suspension last year. The final linebacker spot in YSU’s 4-3 defensive scheme remains open, and Newell is one of numerous players trying to take it over.

To give himself the best chance, he spent the offseason working out … and then working out again.

“I just followed the program that they gave us,” said Newell of the workout regiment from the YSU strength and conditioning staff, “and also I did a lot of extra work every day with coach Rollen Smith. We’d work in the morning at 6, and I’d go back at 1 and do extra work. I studied my playbook and just did everything I could to learn and get better.”

That’s the type of work ethic that has YSU coach Bo Pelini excited about Newell’s potential.

He noticed Newell put on another 10 pounds of muscle since the offseason began, and more importantly, he was glad to hear Newell is spending extra time learning the playbook.

“He has a chance to be real good,” Pelini said. “He has to figure out the mental part of the game right now, just kind of learning the details, but he’s a talented kid.”

Newell said he came to YSU weighing about 190 pounds. He put on 10 pounds last year, and he added another 10 over the last few months. He said he changed his diet and took different protein supplements to help pack on the pounds, something that doesn’t come easy for him. Now, he’s focusing on gaining a complete understanding of a complex defense.

“Honestly, it’s just to think quicker,” said Newell of the final step in his offseason program. “I’m starting to get the playbook, but once I get it down and I know it like the back of my hand, I’ll be able to react and play my game.

“That’s the biggest thing for me right now that I have to gather. Because in high school, I knew what I was doing, so I could just react, but once I learn the playbook (at YSU) and I can just react, I feel like I’ll be back to my playing style.”

If all goes well, he could be the final piece to what should be an impressive corps of linebackers.

Moss and Rivers, both defensive ends, allowed the Penguins to rush four players and still pressure the quarterback. That also enabled YSU to take a linebacker off the field and add one or two extra defensive backs. This year looks to be different, with the strength of the team being the LBs. That should lead to more opportunities in a variety of ways for the linebackers.

“It gives you a lot of versatility,” said Pelini of the linebacker depth. “When I came in here, we weren’t very deep at linebacker. Now I feel a lot better than I did. … There are times when we’ll put an extra linebacker and pull a defensive lineman. We have that whole package, so we have a lot of different ways we can attack people, and we’re going to figure out who the best 11 are and what gives us the best chance to win. We have enough pieces that we’re able to do that.”

Newell hopes to be one of the pieces to the puzzle.