There was a debate between members of the Liberty football coaching staff last season whether Tyler Newman should start at quarterback instead of then-senior Kai Nacua.
“I kind of overruled that decision because we’d won two straight region championships with Kai as our quarterback,” Patriots coach Rich Muraco said. “I just felt like if it didn’t work, then there’d be the questions about why did you switch what was working.”
Nacua was named the Southeast League’s co-Offensive Most Valuable Player in 2012 and guided the Patriots to the Division I state final before moving on to Brigham Young. But this season, Newman has shown why the Patriots’ coaches were so eager to get him on the field.
Newman leads the state in passing yards and touchdowns and has helped Liberty reach the state semifinals for the fourth consecutive year. The Patriots (10-3) travel north to take on Reed (11-1) at 1 p.m. today at Bishop Manogue High School.
“I wanted to leave my mark on Liberty football this year,” Newman said. “I know it was Kai’s team last year. But this year I wanted to step up and be the leader of the team and have it be my team.”
In part-time duty as a junior, Newman led Liberty in touchdown passes with 12, four of them to Nacua. This season, he is completing 61.4 percent of his passes (202 of 329) for 3,662 yards and 41 touchdowns and has outplayed many of the more heralded quarterbacks in the area.
Newman tied the state record with nine touchdown passes in a 62-12 victory over Del Sol on Oct. 11 and is closing in on the state single-season record of 44 set by Devonte Christopher of Canyon Springs in 2007.
“Going into this offseason, we didn’t really have the line where you can say we’re just going to be able to line up and smash people,” Muraco said. “But I knew we had the skill guys, and I knew we had the quarterback. ... Once I saw Tyler had the composure and the command of the offense, I’m just going to roll with what’s hot.”
The 6-foot-1-inch, 185-pound Newman is hearing from Cornell, Harvard and Princeton along with Colorado School of Mines and some Division III schools in California. Unlike many quarterbacks putting up eye-popping passing numbers, Newman doesn’t run a hurry-up offense.
Instead, he has thrived by minimizing turnovers — before throwing four interceptions last week against Green Valley, Newman had four INTs in the previous eight games — and spreading the ball around. Five players have more than 400 yards receiving, led by seniors Deseon McQuaig (46 receptions, 969 yards, 13 TDs) and Drew Hladek (49, 795, 9).
The Patriots average 40.5 points, and Newman is confident they can keep pace with a high-scoring Reed offense that features running back Jacob DeLeon (1,697 yards, 30 TDs) and quarterback Christopher Denn (3,547 total yards, 36 TDs).
“After the second game (a 60-42 loss to Centennial of Corona, Calif.), everything started clicking a lot better,” Newman said. “Since then, our offense has been rolling. There’s a possibility we can score every time we go out on the field.”
Contact reporter David Schoen at email@example.com or 702-387-5203. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidSchoenLVRJ.