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WEDNESDAY, JUNE 6, 2007
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Preston Newman, 60, played at Morgan County High, now Hartselle High, in the 1960s. He went on to play football at Jacksonville State with his brother Johnny. On Saturday, both will be inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame.
Daily photo by Gary Lloyd
Preston Newman, 60, played at Morgan County High, now Hartselle High, in the 1960s. He went on to play football at Jacksonville State with his brother Johnny. On Saturday, both will be inducted into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame.

The football family
Preston and Johnny Newman both played at Jacksonville State

By Bradley Handwerger
bhandwerger@decaturdaily.com 340-2462

Preston Newman always knew where he was going to go to college.

It was Alabama or bust for the Hartselle native.

Yet, if not for his younger brother Johnny, he never would have gone to Jacksonville State, eventually owning a one-time school record for longest punting average for a season.

And though Johnny died from a football injury on the Jacksonville State practice field more than 38 years ago, both are part of the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2007.

"If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have been there," said Preston Newman, 60, who was born about 18 months before Johnny.

"He's the one who said something to coach and got the ball rolling. Forty years is a long time, but I can still see his face looking at me in the huddle."

Preston had been home working after leaving The University of Alabama after his freshman year in 1965. At the same time, Johnny's play on the football field in high school earned him a scholarship to Jacksonville State.

When JSU needed a punter following the 1967 season, Johnny knew where to turn, advising coach Jim Blevins to call his brother.

"I was working hooking poles in the snow and rain," Preston said. "(Blevins) asked me if I wanted to come back to school. I said I would love another shot."

The Newman brothers played only one year together, in 1968.

Preston was the Jacksonville State punter. Johnny was an interior lineman and long snapper.

One of Preston's fondest memories of that season came in the first game against Samford.

Preston had not punted in a game since his year on Alabama's freshman team in 1965.

"First snap, he snapped it over my head and out of the end zone," Preston said. "I was nervous anyway. We went back to the bench, and I don't know what he meant by this. I said, 'What are you doing?'

"He looked at me and winked and grinned and said, 'We're even now.' But he never snapped another bad one in the whole year."

Tragedy struck in 1969 when Johnny died from a cerebral hemorrhage suffered during spring drills April 5 of that year. His death was so sudden, according to an Anniston Star article published April 6, 1969, that the university shut down spring sports for a short period.

In fact, it was big enough that Star Sports Editor George Smith wrote a first-person story about Johnny and stripped it across the top of that day's sports page.

Johnny started 29 games and his jersey number (66) is one of only two retired at Jacksonville State.

"The toughest thing was that he was gone," Preston said. "He had come in my room a few days before. We would always swap out clothes. He was going somewhere and wanted to borrow socks, I don't know.

"I've got the image there. He was standing there, and I was just proud of him, and I've just got that image."

Their football story begins several years before college, however. Both Preston and Johnny attended Morgan County High, now Hartselle High.

Preston started for two years at punter and end. Johnny also was a two-year starter, earning all-Morgan County honors in 1965 as an offensive lineman.

Memories of high school football still stand out to Preston, who works in Huntsville for Game Finder Inc., a hunting electronics business.

On a recent Thursday morning, Newman found himself at Ogle Stadium on the campus of Decatur High. He immediately remembered Morgan County's game there against Decatur his senior year in 1964.

Morgan County took a 13-0 lead into halftime, but Decatur came back to score three second-half touchdowns and the 20-13 win. It was Morgan County's only loss in an 8-1-1 season.

Also that year, Morgan County hadn't beaten Huntsville since 1939 when Preston and Johnny's father W.P. Newman quarterbacked the Tigers. So, when Newman and his teammates traveled to Huntsville for the annual game, history wasn't on their side.

"We went over there, and half our team had the flu bug," Preston said. "We went over there and played and beat them. Coming back, we were singing praises to Pepto Bismal. That game was really a big one for us."

All the while, Johnny and Preston got along at home. Sure, they had their brotherly spats, but both Preston and W.P. remember how much the siblings got along.

"They weren't really trying to compete with each other as far as what they were doing," said W.P., 83 and living in Hartselle.

"They both tried to do the best they could. They was just real close together as far as that's concerned."

That's one of the reasons their mother, Wilma Ruth Newman, supported her sons. Wilma Ruth won't get to see Preston inducted, however. She died two years ago.

"She really would have been proud of them," W.P. said. "She was really a hard fan of theirs."

Said Preston: "It would be hard for her to hold back her pride. Everybody would know about it if they didn't know already."

With their induction into the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame, the Newman brothers always will be remembered.

Nearly 40 years after Preston played on the same team with Johnny, he's thankful. "It was really great getting to play with him," Preston said. "If I had stayed at Alabama, and he was at Jacksonville, I really would have missed a lot."

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