FAIRMONT — When Randy Ragland entered his first season at Fairmont High School last season, he was pretty clear what he was getting into when it came to players.
“Last year when I got here, I got to see those juniors on film and I knew what they were capable of doing,” Ragland said.
This year he hasn’t had the same luxury. After losing 23 seniors to graduation, the Golden Tornadoes are turning to a younger class of sophomores and juniors to fill the roles left behind in the coach’s sophomore season.
“This is a really young group,” Ragland said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys that fit the pieces of the puzzle we need but we’re just not sure how they’re going to perform on Friday night.”
The young core isn’t new to football but had limited time at the varsity level and will have to adjust to the speed of varsity play during a challenging non-conference schedule that starts at East Bladen.
“Most of them were freshman and started at jayvee last year but now they’re going to have to step up and play big boy football as a sophomore,” Ragland said.
The team has 4-5 returning players on each side of the ball, most notably on the offensive line where center George Grissett leads an experienced core of three offensive linemen that should open up holes for all the new skill players.
“That’s definitely an advantage for us,” Ragland said. “It’s got us ahead of the game because they know what’s going on up front and they understand their assignments which makes it easy for everybody else because they are the ones that really open up the holes and block for the quarterback.”
The only major skill player to return on the offensive side is Shyheim Hines, who can play around the field but will likely serve as one of the primary targets for new quarterback Julius Caulder, who replaces County Heisman winner Jarrod Neal. Shykeim Lambert also was a key target for Caulder during the scrimmage season.
“They’ve got big shoes to fill but they’re going to try their hardest,” Grissett said about the new players.
Hines said things have come easier this year for the offense as its familiarity with Ragland’s system continues to grow.
“It’s going good because we already knew the offense from last year,” Hines said. “It’s a little bit easier.”
Ragland plans to keep relying on a passing attack from his air raid set and proclaimed during the Three Rivers Conference media day that he wanted to limit the run game. He said his team passed the ball roughly two thirds of the time last year and hopes to increase the ratio.
Should the need arise, the team spent plenty of practice time running the ball and will have numerous options in the backfield.
Defensively, Fairmont is hoping to avoid consistency issues that hurt them last fall, especially as teams tried to pound the ball.
With five returners and the young talent, Ragland expects improvement.
“I think we’re a little bit faster, I think we’re going to be a little more physical than we were last year,” Ragland said. “We honestly don’t have much of a choice. With the teams we play we’ve got to be more physical than last year.”
Ragland said the season will ultimately hinge on how the young players step into their roles.
“Sometimes it’s fun coaching the young guys because you have to do more coaching than you do with the older guys who have been around a while,” he said.