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Feb. 15—SHORT GAP, W.Va. — It feels somewhat cliché to grant the Coach of the Year award to the leader of the best team.
But in a season as adversity-laden as this one, and in a year where Frankfort didn't have a go-to workhorse like Nick Marley to lean on when things got tough — the job by the Falcons' coaching staff to get their boys to buy in and operate like a machine was nothing short of remarkable.
In honor of a 7-1 record, and a ranking as high as No. 2 in the state of West Virginia, Frankfort head coach Kevin Whiteman was selected by the Potomac Highlands' coaches as the Coach of the Year.
"It's a reflection on Frankfort High School and what we've built with this football program," said Whiteman, who edged East Hardy head coach Devon Orndorff for the title. "Any time you get an award, it means you're doing something good.
"But I'm just a piece of the puzzle. My assistant coaches work hard, we have good kids that play hard. I assure you, I have a good rapport with the other coaches in the area and they all work hard. Any of them could be Coach of the Year."
When Frankfort headed to Moorefield for a scrimmage in late August, it didn't appear like the squad was destined for another great season. The Falcons had five fumbles in three quarters, falling 14-7 to the Yellow Jackets.
Apparently, Frankfort got all the mistakes out in the tuneup because it only had eight turnovers in the eight regular-season games that followed, forcing 29, for an impressive plus-21 turnover margin.
The Falcons were dominant in the ground game, pounding the opposition for 294.5 rushing yards a game, more than seven yards a carry, 34 touchdowns and 33.8 points per contest. Its defense, meanwhile, allowed only 15.5 points a night.
"We were good in all three phases," Whiteman said. "Our offense was powerful, our defense bent but didn't break and we had a good return game. Against Jefferson, we got out of there with a win because our defense made multiple stops and forced timely turnovers. Our coaches had a plan every week and we executed."
In that game against Jefferson on Oct. 2, the Falcons trailed 7-0 at the half but could've been down by as many as three scores: They picked off a pass in the end zone and had another fourth-and-goal stop.
After falling behind 13-0, Frankfort rallied off a series of long drives to come from behind and hold on for a 28-19 victory to make it five wins in as many games.
More than just wins and losses, the determination the Falcons showed against Jefferson epitomizes everything Whiteman wants out of his football team.
"We had some adversity throughout the year, and they never gave up," he said. "If we got down or weren't playing well, they didn't give up.
"We have kids that will give you their all and battle. That's huge, it translates to life, battling adversity. There are things in life that will get you down, and you can't give up. That's what I'm most proud of with this team, I know they have what it takes to be successful after Frankfort."
Frankfort didn't have a dominating weapon like Marley, but both sides of the ball were still oozing with a plethora of talent. The Falcons have six players on the All-Area first team, second only to Keyser's seven, with two more making the second unit.
Running back Cole Hiett, offensive linemen John Bittinger and Kyle Owens, tight end Brock Robinette — also a second-team D-lineman and the Player of the Year runner up — linebacker Jansen Moreland and safety Luke Robinette all appeared on the top team.
Frankfort back Peyton Clark and lineman Jacob Logsdon were on the second team.
"I knew we had the potential to be great, we had a lot of talent and the kids really bought in," Whiteman said. "With all the talented running backs and linemen we had coming back, it's a shame to be 7-1 and not be able to finish. I think we could've made a deep run into the playoffs."
The highlight of Frankfort's season came against Spring Mills on Sept. 25, when the Falcons upset the Class AAA No. 1 team 21-20 at Frankfort Stadium. It was an instant classic that came down to the wire, with the squad from Short Gap stopping the Cardinals on a two-point conversion try in overtime.
But Frankfort's two biggest contests, clashes with top AA teams Oak Glen and Keyser, were canceled after Mineral County went into the red on the COVID map late in the season.
The latter Mineral Bowl bout was shaping up to be one of the best in years.
Despite not getting the chance to face Whiteman and his Frankfort team, Keyser head coach Derek Stephen had nothing but niceties to say about his cross-county rival.
"He's a good guy, they battled through what we had to," Stephen said. "Jumping through all the hoops we had to, and to finish with the record that they did, he's well deserving."
Though Frankfort picked up the No. 3 seed in the playoffs and figured to be heavy favorites at home against No. 14 Independence, its season ended unceremoniously with a forfeit due to the virus.
It was evident Whiteman was as gutted as his boys, but like any great coach, he made sure to give his team some perspective. Lessons like that are exactly what you'd expect from the Coach of the Year.
"It was horrible, devastating," Whiteman said. "I remember the day we knew it was over, kids were at the stadium crying, seniors especially. But it's important to look at the big picture, COVID had an impact on the whole world."
Alex Rychwalski is a sportswriter at the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @arychwal.