New Polar Bears team falling into place with season opener in sight

·4 min read

Aug. 3—FAIRMONT — The calendar has only just turned to August, but even before the Fairmont Senior Polar Bears' season has started, the dominoes are already falling.

The first domino came on Dec. 3, 2021, when the Bears completed an arduous playoff run as the Class AA state playoff's 16-seed, eventually heaving themselves up onto the mountaintop with a 21-12 triumph over the then-undefeated Independence Patriots.

Fairmont Senior had taken losses to formidable opponents like Bridgeport and University during the regular season, and had to throw down with top-seeded Herbert Hoover, rival Robert C. Byrd, and an explosive Poca team throughout the playoffs.

All that is to say that the Polar Bears have fresh memories of overcoming adversity, and that's stuck with them to this point.

"The experience of a season like that, it helps all these underclassmen coming back," Fairmont Senior head coach Nick Bartic said. "There's value in thinking no matter how grave the situation, we'll have an opportunity to overcome that as long as we stay the course and stay true to the rules of our program."

Fairmont Senior graduated several key contributors to that playoff run, but in the wake of their second straight state title, new faces are now equipped to step into their places.

Germaine Lewis already had a lot on his plate as far as playmaking responsibility for the Polar Bears — the incoming senior scored 15 total touchdowns and netted over 1,500 yards from scrimmage last year as Fairmont Senior's lead back, while also registering 27.5 tackles, three sacks and a safety on defense.

Dylan Ours made an immediate impact as a freshman in 2020, but battled injuries throughout last season, still rushing for over 200 yards, scoring a kick return touchdown in the playoffs, and securing 45.5 tackles, two sacks, and an interception.

As a pair of running backs and linebackers, Lewis and Ours are using the little time left in the offseason preparing to power the Polar Bear offense and defense. But as experienced voices on the team, they're also primed to take on larger roles.

"They play a great role within our scheme on offense and defense, but they also do a great job of bringing leadership from within the team," Bartic said. "With those guys, it's not just about the X's and O's but also the intangibles they bring to the team."

The group in the trenches — those who will be blocking for the running backs on one end, and taking on blocks for the linebackers on the other — are looking much different from this time last year, with players like Eric Smith (Miami of Ohio), Koby Toothman (Fairmont State) and Darrius Hubbard (Glenville State) moving on to the next level.

Roster turnover is a constant for high school football though, and Fairmont Senior is optimistic about their current crop.

"You're always paying attention to the offensive and defensive lines," Bartic said. "The guys we have to replace, those are big shoes to fill, they did a great job. Hopefully some of the experience of the guys we do have coming back will help bridge the gap from last season to this season.

"Some of our newer guys that didn't have a lot of experience last year have done pretty well throughout the summer, and I think we should get some production from a whole handful of guys that we can rotate on both sides of the ball."

The Polar Bears have seen multiple performers impress in the skill room, too. Good leaders have continued a good culture for the defending state champs, and that in turn has meant good competition. And if the cream rises to the top, they may pick up right where they left off.

"The potential's there," Bartic said. "Right now our timing is continuing to improve and I think that's what August is for. The summer really got us in a good place from last year to this season, and August is about fine tuning. Right now we have a lot of guys competing for jobs that can all play.

"We feel like we'll have a healthy rotation in our skill positions, and we're also seeing competitions that are helping to push the learning curve. Right now we're in a good situation with the guys we have, as long as they continue to develop we'll be in a good place."

Fairmont Senior has a little over three weeks of preparation and progress to make until the regular season starts at home against Lewis County — and with it, a whole new line of dominoes to knock over.

Reach Nick Henthorn at 304-367-2548, on Twitter @nfhenthorn_135 or by email at nhenthorn@timeswv.com.