Austin Newson describes himself as a “person of grit.” The McMinn County senior’s success in soccer has come down to his work ethic, discipline and determination.
That hard work culminated in an offer from Tennessee Wesleyan University, and on Tuesday at McMinn High, Newson signed his letter of intent to continue his education and soccer career as a Bulldog.
Newson is aware his grit will benefit him more than ever when he prepares to play the game at the college level.
“What that means is waking up early, staying up late, going for runs. A lot of discipline,” Newson said. “A lot of times, we forget that we need to be disciplined, and I know for me that discipline was running and exercising, and especially this last year I’ve realized that I’m going to be going against people who are way older than me and bigger than me, so I’ve been trying to work out more and gain weight on that, as well. And always, no matter what, try to improve. And I think that’s the biggest thing, as long as you don’t stop and you’re improving, that’s what matters.”
Berea College in Kentucky and Lander University in South Carolina were two other schools who were recruiting Newson. But Newson’s club coach, McMinn United FC’s Seth Rucker, and former MUFC coach and Wesleyan player Dave Baisden encouraged him to attend TWU’s ID camps. As he participated in more of them, he got the notice of TWU Coach Luke Winter.
“I remember that Luke Winter, the head coach, said he was very impressed with me and I just kept hearing around, a couple of whispers, that I might be getting an offer,” Newson said. “So I kept working, kept going and I went to six ID camps and worked hard, and I got an official offer. I wasn’t sure at first how I felt about TWU, but after going there and experiencing not only the sports side of it but also the academic side, I really enjoyed it.”
Newson admitted he is “not really much of a natural talent” in soccer, and the appreciation TWU’s soccer program and coaches have for grit is also what led to his decision to sign with the Bulldogs.
“I’ve been known for my grit and working hard on that, and they see that, and they push that,” Newson said. “I know I’m going to be pushed there, and that’s all I want, is to make sure I’m going to be a better player. And I really do believe I’m going to be a better player there.”
Newson started getting extensive playing time his sophomore year at McMinn and has played multiple positions for the Cherokees, including center back, outside back and a defensively inclined midfielder. Newson’s position could change again for his senior season, perhaps even being moved up to offense.
That kind of versatility is what McMinn Assistant Coach Jordan Jacob believes will help Newson his senior season with the Tribe and at TWU.
“He’s very versatile, obviously, and it’s a good trait to have because going into college, and I’ve told him many times, wherever they want to put you, just do your best there,” Jacob said. “And as far as I’m concerned, getting on the field is the main goal, even if it’s not somewhere you’ve ever played before, then that’s fine, too.”
Newson isn’t quite sure what position he’ll play at TWU, but he may have at least a vague idea.
“I do believe I’ll be able to play center back and right back, but I have a big feeling that Coach Winter really liked me at wing back, especially since they want three in the back, I’m really going to have to make my runs, which I’ve been really working on because I know my offense is not as good as my defense,” Newson said. “So I try to be a dynamic player, I try to be able to do whatever the coach wants, but I will say that I do believe he’ll have me at wing back.”
The soccer Cherokees, traditionally successful, have struggled more than the program is accustomed to over the last two years with a combined 9-23-2 record.
However, the 2018 season saw notable improvement from the season before and culminated in a surprising run to a District 5-AAA runner-up finish and a berth in the Region 3-AAA semifinals.
And Jacob considers Newson a vital part of a group that seeks to return the Cherokees to more consistent success on the pitch.
“He’s brought leadership and is a part of starting to change the culture here,” Jacob said. “Showing the determination, the drive, the want to win that this program needs, particularly with some of the tough years we’ve had the past couple of years. I think that’s a good ground he’s laying for the future.”
The soccer Tribe lost key players Alexis and Carlos Orozco to graduation last year, but this year’s group returns a core with goals for a winning record and a deep postseason run, especially coming on the heels of 2018’s strong finish.
“I’m really thinking we’re going to have a good season,” Newson said. “I think the quality and the skill is going to be different, especially with the youngsters that are coming, but I think as a team we’re going to play a lot better than last year. We have big goals, and I think the fact that we have a taste and know what it’s like to win, I really do believe we can make it into regionals and possibly go further.”
At TWU, Newson intends to major in psychology with an aim to get a Ph. D. in clinical psychology, and also to minor in business. And just like with his soccer career, Newson believes one thing will also lead him to success in his intended field of study.
“There’s a lot that entails in that, a lot of grit with that, a lot of schooling and a lot of work,” Newson said.