COACH: Randy Ragland
2012: 4-7 (1-4 Three Rivers). Banned from 2A playoffs
KEY RETURNERS: Shemar Barfield (Sr., WR), Jarrod Neal (Sr., QB), Naim Bellamy (Sr., DL), Silas Oxendine (Sr., OL)
NO. OF PLAYERS IN TOP 25: 6
PROJECTED FINISH: 8-5
Follow Friday’s action live on Twitter via the hashtag #ROBCOFB and be on the look out for The Robesonian’s 16-page football tab appearing in Thursday’s print edition.
FAIRMONT — By almost any measure, the 2012 football season at Fairmont was a letdown.
Not only did the Golden Tornadoes see their three-year reign atop the Three Rivers Conference end with only one league victory, but they were banned from postseason contention following a fourth-quarter scuffle with Lake View, S.C.
But don’t think the punishment is weighing on Fairmont’s program.
“We just forgot about it,” said returning quarterback Jarrod Neal. “It’s a fresh start. We didn’t want to bring dark thoughts into this season. It’s a whole new season.”
A new season that brings plenty of updated elements to a team ripe with experience.
The biggest change comes on the sideline, where first-year head coach Randy Ragland takes the helm after spending the last three years at West Johnson.
Ragland, the team’s third coach in three years, has implemented the Air Raid offense which isn’t far from what the Golden Tornadoes used during their dominant stretch as Three Rivers champions.
“Coach (Keith) Wood ran something very similar to what I’m running with these guys now, which has honestly made my job easier coming in,” Ragland said. “These guys have came in and gotten a grasp on what we’re doing offensively.”
It helps that there’s no shortage of veteran leadership. Fairmont’s roster has a total of 22 seniors, many of whom have been through the program’s ups and downs.
“They’ve been invested in the program for four years now,” Ragland said. “They’ve had a couple of good years where they were used to winning and then they had last year and the unfortunate circumstances with the incident, but they’re ready to bounce back from that and a lot of guys are going to play key roles.”
Offensively, Neal will again be behind center. He’ll look to be one of the county’s top quarterbacks after throwing for more than 1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. Neal’s veteran core of receivers also return, led by Shemar Barfield and Da’Shawn Fields.
“We’re going to spread the ball around,” Ragland said. “We’re going to throw it around and we’re going to let Jarrod make some plays.”
Defensively, the Tornadoes have plenty of playmakers.
Returning all-county defensive back Zach Caudle and Clint Walker will lead the secondary. Caudle nabbed six interceptions last year and returned a punt for a touchdown.
Naim Bellamy looks to provide a boost on the defensive line. The only question entering the season up front is who will fill the linebacker spots and just how well they will do.
Ragland has been impressed with how his team has looked over the offseason, but he and Neal stressed that discipline would be key to success.
“There’s no easy nights when you look at the schedule,” Ragland said. “For us to be able to compete, we’ve got to be disciplined each and every week. We’ve got to show up and be committed and we’ve got to execute on Friday nights, take care of the football.”
As for the seniors, they know what they want to do — bring winning football back to Fairmont.
“Coach has been preaching all summer about leaving a legacy,” Neal said. “That’s what we’re trying to do, leave a legacy.”