CARSON Newman’s sophomore football season at the University of the Cumberlands left him with a torn meniscus, a broken thumb and in need of two surgeries.
But winning 13 games and reaching the NAIA national championship has a way of making the pain seem worth it.
“It was a blast,” the former Jefferson defensive star said of the season. “I loved every minute of it.”
Newman’s season was a testament to his resiliency as he played in nine of the Patriots’ 14 games despite the two injuries. He finished the season with 39 tackles at defensive end with seven tackles for loss and two sacks for Cumberlands, a small school located in Williamsburg, Ky.
Cumberlands, which finished 13-1, ended up losing 35-23 to Grand View University in the NAIA championship game in December, but Newman said the journey getting there was certainly memorable.
“It was just really cool to be part of that team,” he said. “We broke several records … just really cool — a once-in-a-lifetime experience some would say.”
Newman, who played for Jefferson from 2008-2011, signed with Cumberlands in 2012 after being part of three state playoff teams at Jefferson, rarely leaving the field as a senior. Newman earned all-state honors in 2011 after recording 23 tackles for loss as a defensive end.
Originally recruited as a linebacker, Newman convinced his college coaches to move him to defensive end.
“I was like ‘hey, I like defensive end a little bit better; I want to stay down there,’” Newman said.
He appeared in eight games as a freshman, logging 12 tackles before earning a starting spot as a sophomore. Newman’s bout with the injury bug this past year began in the third game of the season when he broke his left thumb in Cumberlands’ 41-17 victory over Belhaven.
The steel plate inserted in the thumb forced him to sit for five games — the most action he’s missed since his sophomore year at Jefferson when he separated his shoulder.
Newman, who once had 21 tackles in a high school game for Jefferson, was reduced to holding up play call signals from the sidelines and even missed Cumberlands’ rivalry game against Georgetown College (Ky.)
“That one really killed me,” he said.
Newman returned to action in November, playing with a club on his hand as Cumberlands completed a 10-0 regular season. Then Newman tore the meniscus in his left knee in the playoffs. Yet he played all the way through the championship game against Grand View University.
The Patriots’ semifinal win over Carroll College was particularly memorable for him. On the last play of regulation, Newman sacked Carroll’s quarterback to preserve a 27-27 tie and Cumberlands ended up winning 34-27 in overtime.
“It was just a really big momentum swing,” Newman said. “All the guys on our team stepped up at that point to send us to the championship game.”
Newman had knee surgery in January to repair his meniscus and just recently finished rehab. Recovering wasn’t easy.
“It’s hard to come back from that,” Newman said. “After surgery, I couldn’t even walk. Now I’m up to finally doing sprints again.”
Newman, a dual sport athlete, was still able to take part in Cumberlands’ track season and finished sixth in the conference in the javelin. He said being a student and two-sport college athlete is demanding.
“It’s tough because it’s very time consuming,” he said. “You can’t take as many classes as you want. You’ve got to be patient and work with people.”
As a student, Newman has gotten used to life at the somewhat isolated Cumberlands campus, which he called “beautiful.” He said the nearest big town, Knoxville, Tenn., is located an hour away.
“I always think Jefferson is a small town, but Williamsburg has got it beat,” Newman quipped.
He’s majoring in exercise sports science — with a possible minor in Spanish or psychology — and is pondering a career as a pilot.
“I don’t know if I want to join the military and get them to teach me how to fly or if I want to take out a lot of money and learn how to fly,” he said.
Despite the obstacles he faced in 2013, he calls his sophomore season “a blessing.” But there’s one thing that doesn’t sit well with him — losing that national title game.
While he speaks fondly of the season as a whole, failing to secure the championship “leaves a chip on your shoulder.”
“It leaves something empty in your stomach — hungry for more — when you get that close to success, when you’re that close to being the no. 1 team in the nation and national champion and someone takes it away from you,” he said.
So he’s eager to get back out on the field this fall.
Now weighing 240 pounds, he hopes to make all-conference this season after missing out on those honors in 2013 due to the time he missed for injuries. But more than anything, Newman — who said he’s assumed a leadership role for the Patriots — wants to have a positive impact on his teammates. And he wants to win.
“Honestly, the only goal I have is to win the biggest game and that’s the next game until we get to the championship, and that’s the final goal,” Newman said. “You could say I have 14 goals because (there are) 14 games.”
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