MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — This summer is unlike any other in the history of Fairmont Senior’s football program.
The Polar Bears are defending a title for the first time since 1946 — one year before the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission began crowning champions.
The joy of bringing the hardware back to Marion County was even greater for the Polar Bears considering they finished Class AA runner-up each of the two previous seasons.
“It is different and it is new,” FSHS coach Nick Bartic said. “For our guys, I think now it’s more of a challenge. Already, they’re being dismissed and I feel like they have a chip on their shoulder because of the class that they’re following. They feel like they’re already being underestimated going into next season. We’re not for loss of motivation to try to get back and do it again.”
It’s only natural to expect Fairmont Senior to take a step back with the departure of Kennedy Award winner/MetroNews Player of the Year Connor Neal. Neal, a quarterback, directed the Polar Bears’ prolific offense each of the last two seasons and threw for 3,620 yards and 46 touchdowns as a senior.
Additionally, Rhett Heston, Caleb Walker, Breeden Gilbert, Jake Pitman and J.D. Smith — a stellar group of skill position players — have moved on, as have several key linemen who were instrumental to the Polar Bears’ unbeaten 2018 campaign.
“It was a very special senior group and there were 10 starters,” Bartic said. “But the process really is the same regardless of how many guys you lose. Some guys will have to be able to handle more than they have or maybe more than what’s expected out of them. Hopefully that’s something we’ve developed over the three-week period.”
The Polar Bears kept busy during the three-week period, playing in competitive 7-on-7 events at Frostburg State and West Virginia University. It allowed Bartic to get a look at less experienced players likely to be an important part of the team’s plans in the near future.
“You want to develop your younger guys and that’s always important,” Bartic said. “There were 30 teams at Frostburg State, 35 in Morgantown and it’s top-level competition. That’s what we want our guys exposed to. The biggest thing we try to get out of these are quality reps against good competition. Otherwise, our goals for 7-on-7 are for our guys to compete, be physical and try to learn how to win.”
Physicality shouldn’t be much of a problem for the Polar Bears’ offensive and defensive lines, which will be led by recent WVU commit Zach Frazier.
Frazier, at 6-foot-2 and 280 pounds, is among the elite linemen in the state. Also an accomplished wrestler, he pledged his verbal committment to the Mountaineers after sorting through an impressive list of offers that included Stanford, Virginia Tech and Louisville.
Now he’s set to join ex-high school teammates Darius Stills, Dante Stills and Jake Abbott in Morgantown.
“Zach is a smart and methodical student-athlete and he’s the same way as a person,” Bartic said. “He did a nice job of handling the attention and weighing his options. He really looked at each school and program and compared and contrasted. He did those things and obviously we’re very proud of him.
“Without any Division I offers, he’s still a great person. But we are very excited that we’re going to be able to watch him right down the road in Morgantown.”