Younger pack of Polar Bears look to keep FSHS in title contention

FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Fairmont Senior’s only loss since the 2017 state championship game kept them from returning to the Super Six for the fourth consecutive season. Time has done little to ease the sting of a 40-24 loss to Bluefield in the state semifinals.

“It has been driving me the entire quarantine,” said Fairmont Sr. senior QB-DB Gage Michael. “I have been lifting hard and everybody has. We are just getting ready to get back.”

This has been an offseason of transition on 12th Street after the departure of a senior class that featured several multi-year starters. Left to work out on their own for about three months in the spring due to the pandemic, head coach Nick Bartic still had ways to check in on his guys.

“We have a team page that the guys had to post to,” Bartic said. “It is to show workouts that they were doing on their own. The phrase was — ‘You get to see who was lying and who was telling the truth when they showed up’. It was a quick ten-minute window and you find out who was doing what they were supposed to do.”

West’s most dynamic playmaker returns as Kent State commit Gage Michael is back for his second season as the starting quarterback. Last fall, Michael tossed 27 touchdown passes and ran for 22 more scores. He accounted for 3,943 yards of total offense and averaged 11.4 yards per play.

“It was no surprise,” Bartic said. “Coming into this season now, people are more familiar with him. So it might be a little bit harder for him in terms of having a target. But he is as hard of a worker as you are going to find. And he is as competitive as anyone you are going to find.”

The Polar Bears said goodbye to three of their top four receivers but they do welcome back their top four in rushing yards. Senior Kieshawn Cottingham should have a featured role.

“He works just as hard as anybody else,” Michael said. “He got a little bit banged up last year with his knee. But he is strong and he will be able to run the ball for us.”

Fairmont’s front line will have a distinctly different look with four new starters and without new Mountaineer Zach Frazier.

“We only have one returning starting lineman,” Bartic said. “We use this period as a teaching tool anyway. The guys that do that the best are going to be the ones that find themselves in the lineup with the first crack at it.”

The Polar Bears have averaged twelve wins a season since 2016. The annual goals remain the same but the path to those goals may run a different course.

“We maintain our standards and expectations,” Bartic said. “We might adjust on how you get there based on whatever the cast is going to be. Ultimately, we still have our same standard of goals and these guys know that.”

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