Attempt to tackle Richard Newton at your own risk.
Not just because UW’s redshirt freshman running back might embarrass you, like he did the Eastern Washington Eagles in his college debut. Newton’s first touch — a direct snap on fourth-and-two, no less — went gashing up the gut for an emphatic 23-yard touchdown. He added runs of 14 and 20 yards as well, cutting back across the field and barreling through overmatched DBs. Newton finished with a team-high 91 yards and a touchdown, averaging 7.6 yards per revelatory rush.
So, yeah, he might embarrass you. But there’s a high probability he’ll hurt you, too.
“He’s always been a violent runner,” said Eric Nickols, Newton’s former head coach at Palmdale (Calif.) High School. “We always described him as a kid that, when we actually did a tackling drill that was full contact, everybody always got up (from tackling him) like, ‘God dang, this hurts.’ ‘That hurts.’ You just didn’t get up off the ground feeling healthy.
“It was something, always. He was always spinning, wiry, just violent. He just always lived that. You’d get up and go, ‘Damn, something hurts.’ ”
Richard Newton runs like a gazelle being chased by a lion; like the end zone is lined with $100 dollar bills; like the defensive back said something mean about his mother; like Indiana Jones, frantically fleeing from a rolling stone boulder; like he drank all the water in Lake Washington and the nearest bathroom is beyond the end zone; like each step is its own individual exclamation point.
He runs with anger, enthusiasm, maybe even a dash of desperation — and not just when he has the football.
“He’s a physical player,” said UW offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan. “I think it was in our last scrimmage we turned the ball over and he was the guy that came down (in kick coverage) and laid the hit and everything. I think it starts with physicality with him. He’s very flexible, if you will. He can do a lot of different things for us out of the backfield.”
He has always been 1.) physical, and 2.) flexible. When Newton arrived at Palmdale out of nearby Lancaster in 2014, Nickols stashed him at safety and slot receiver. Then, about three weeks into his sophomore season, “We said, ‘Hey, let’s just give this kid the ball,’ ” Nickols recalled. “After that he made us look like smart coaches.”
As the team’s starting tailback, Newton rushed for 859 yards, averaged 7.5 yards per carry and scored 20 total touchdowns in his sophomore season. He followed that up with 1,050 rushing yards and 17 more scores the following year.
Flexibility? Just wait.
“His junior year we were a little thin at linebacker, so as the head coach and the linebacker coach at the time I said, ‘No, we’re going to move him down to MIKE,’ ” Nickols said. “I can’t remember who we played that week, but they came out and they thought they had an opportunity to play with us that night, and Richard just blew them up as the MIKE linebacker as well as tailback.
“It was like, ‘Dude, that’s cheating, putting him there.’ ”
In a prolific prep career at Palmdale, Nickols put Newton just about everywhere — including quarterback. He’d line his starting tailback up in shotgun in a two-tight end set, with two other running backs beside him, and “flip him the ball and let him just start attacking the line of scrimmage downhill and get violent.” Occasionally, he’d attempt a pass, too.
“All the Newton brothers can throw the football. They’re all just athletic,” Nickols said. “I’ve got his twin brothers (Kadin and Khamani) right now on varsity as sophomores, so one’s playing quarterback and one’s splitting time between slot and tailback for us. They’re just athletic. You can tell they grew up around football and can throw the football.”
In retrospect, then, Newton’s wildcat success last weekend shouldn’t come as a surprise. Immediately following the win over Eastern Washington, UW coach Chris Petersen said that his redshirt-freshman running back (and former high-school sprinter and long-jumper) has “been pretty impressive since he’s been here. He’s a hard, tough runner. That’s why he’s in that wildcat position. We kind of showed that right away.
“He puts his pads down, his legs keep churning. The big thing with the running-back position is the vision that comes with it, so I’m anxious to put the tape on. I know he was pushing the pile forward a lot of times.”
Newton is always pushing, and therein lies a potential problem. He missed parts of two high-school seasons with injuries, and redshirted last fall while undergoing shoulder surgery. It appears his particular brand of pigskin violence might come at a personal cost.
But now, more than ever, he’s built to deliver the blow. During his prep career at Palmdale, Newton was listed — perhaps generously — at 183 pounds. That number increased to 195 pounds during his redshirt season in UW’s strength and conditioning program. Now, with another offseason under his belt, he has settled at 6 feet and 210 pounds of merciless muscle.
Take it from Nickols: Newton played like an armored tank before he ever looked like one.
“He was a little bit lighter his sophomore year,” Nickols said, “but he didn’t refrain from violence.”
Petersen saw the same thing during UW’s practices this offseason.
“We’ve felt really good about him, because even when we weren’t scrimmaging he seemed to be a real tough, hard runner,” said Petersen, whose Huskies host Cal in their Pac-12 opener at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. “So that really carried over to game one (against Eastern) and real-time experience.
“That’s the first real snaps that he’s had. I think he answered the bell. It’s kind of like you get out of the gate your first game and it’s like a quiz, so of speak. The next one’s a bigger one. This is more of the midterm. Let’s see where we’re at. So he did well for the first one.”
In Week 1, at least, Newton passed the test.
He did the same thing at Palmdale — and not just in tackling drills.
“He’s one of the kids that we talk highly about because he did it right. We mention (to our current players) that, hey, Richard Newton kind of stubbed his toe in the grade department his freshman year and realized what he needed to do academically and went back and handled his business in the classroom. We try to support kids as much as possible, but some kids, you can lead them to water but they don’t want it. He got after it and got the grades.
“He was a gem to coach. He was so dang violent. We often worried about him at practice being so damn violent.”