FAIRMONT — Coming off one of the most successful seasons in program history last fall, the prosperity from last year is nothing the Fairmont football team is taking for granted.
Instead, the Golden Tornadoes are using the 11-3 mark and an appearance in the third round of the state playoffs from last season as a newfound benchmark to reach in 2016.
“I think there is a little more excitement that they believe,” Fairmont coach Mark Heil said. “I think they say now ‘we’ve got a good program’ and we’ve got a lot of people that have came off that team. I’m hoping that their goals are higher than it was a year ago.”
Heil is now embarking on his second season at Fairmont and has several athletes on both sides of the ball including most of the weapons from last year’s offense that produced some of the highest numbers in the state. Leading the crew on offense is two-time Robeson County Heisman Julius Caulder at quarterback who wants to replicate last year’s success this fall.
“It makes us a lot hungrier because last year was our first time going (to the third round),” Caulder said. “I think us getting a new coach and the way he did things, that made us have that run. We’ve had him for a year so we know what he’s about and I think we can go even deeper this year.”
With the strength on offense, Heil is looking to fill the shoes of eight seniors on defense from last year, including Robeson County Defensive Player of the Year DeAngelo McMillian. Defensive backs Derrick Arnette and Malik Arnette are the two returners on defense and despite the new faces that are filling the positions, Heil sees how speed can play a factor on defense.
“(The defense) is very inexperienced, obviously, but there’s some potential,” Heil said. “We’re very inexperienced at linebackers, but what we do like is they can run. Our defensive line will not be real big, but we’ve got some (defensive) ends that can run.”
Senior Jahmon Sinclair is a quick defensive end that Heil sees making an impact at more than just the line of scrimmage with their speed.
Secondary depth has been a concern this summer for the Golden Tornadoes and has led receivers Jarique Moore, Jordan Waters, Sidney McKeithan and Xavier Covington along with Caulder to practice in the secondary and could see time there this fall.
The entrance of Heil as head coach in summer 2015 also brought in a new mentality to the team, one that lines up with the mindset of the veteran coach. Now with one season of adjusting under his belt, he feels that Fairmont is starting to pick up on the defensive mindset that he wants to it to have.
“We’ve got some potential, it’s going to take some time,” he said. “Our first two scrimmages we may look a little raw. We looked a little raw last year, but the defense started to come around because it’s just not been a defensive minded school.
“The kids didn’t want to play defense here a year a half ago, they just wanted to go out there and catch touchdown passes and score 500 points. Defense wasn’t emphasized. I’m a defensive-minded coach so it’s emphasized and we want to hit people and that’s been the nice change from 14 months ago.”
While the defense molds into Heil’s vision for the unit, the offense seems to have not missed a beat from the end of the season.
“I think the offense is going to pick up where it left off, I hope so,” Heil said. “It’s just getting that offensive line clicking together as a unit.”
Austin White, Nick Hunt and Trevon Ross will anchor the line that lost three starters from last season while the threats on the outside and in the backfield return for Fairmont.
Along with Caulder are Moore and Waters, a surplus of slot pass catchers and leading rusher Halijah McLean from last season’s squad that averaged 40 points per game.
“That’s everything a quarterback can want,” Caulder said. “I’ve got big time Jarique Moore, he’s special, and Waters, he’s something too. There’s some guys stepping up into Isaac’s (Howard) role and they might be just as good as he is or even better. I’m blessed to have them all back and the offensive line.”
Fairmont opens the season at home on Friday against Westover.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.