A year removed from a 13-1 season and Class 2A Division I state semifinal appearance, Newton appears primed for a huge season.

The Eagles are ETSN.fm's pick for the No. 1 spot in our region's Class 2A preseason poll after getting to the final four last season and losing to eventual state champion Cameron Yoe.

Newton must play this season without the talents of Dale Dean, Newton's starting quarterback and a defensive difference-maker a year ago who is now a cornerback at Arkansas. But head coach W.T. Johnston's squad is loaded with talent, perhaps none greater than returning tailback Kevin Shorter, who ran for more than 1,800 yards and 31 touchdowns a year ago.

Shorter joins fellow 1,000-yard rusher Brandon Johnson in the backfield, which will have its way paved by a big and physical offensive line that includes 240-pound Tyler Gibson and 275-pound Brent Simmons. In all, Newton has eight starters back on offense after scoring a whopping 53.1 points per game in 2012.

The defense, which held opponents to 14.1 points per game last season, has seven starters back, including outside linebacker Anthony Hadnot, who had 119 tackles and 12 sacks in a monster junior season. Newton's other outside linebacker, Chedrick Hanks, had 81 tackles and gives Johnston two playmakers on the edges.

Dean's impact in the secondary will be missed, but Newton's more than prepared to rebound from his graduation. Shorter started at safety last year and could join two athletic juniors -- Roney Elam and Calum Foster -- and veteran Carlton Myers in what will likely be one of 2A's best defensive backfields.

Newton, which will start the season ranked No. 1 by multiple preseason publications, rolled through the regular season and first four rounds of the playoffs in 2012. All the ingredients are there for the Eagles to make another deep playoff run in the quest for the program's fourth state championship.

ETSN.fm 2013 Preseason Class 2A Poll