FAIRLAND — Fairland is hoping that experience among its juniors and seniors helps the Owls reach post-season play for the first time since 2015.
“The last couple years had junior and senior classes that only had three or four players in them, so we were counting on freshmen and sophomores,” head coach Kent Marshall said. “Those freshmen and sophomores are now juniors and seniors and they have been in the trenches long enough.
“We expect them to go out and perform well.”
Seven starters return from a team that went 4-6
Marshall is entering his seventh season at Fairland during two stints.
He was 10-20 from 1992-94 and the Owls have been 14-17 since his return in 2015.
Fairland made the Class A playoffs in his first season back, but has gone 3-7 and 4-6 the past two seasons.
“Like every small school, the biggest thing is keeping people healthy and develop some depth,” Marshall said.
Marshall was expecting to have 23 or 24 players on the roster, which is a little down from the numbers he and his staff had been anticipating.
“But those that we have out there are all kids that can help us out on Friday nights,” he said.
Because of the experience “we’re probably further ahead this year both offensively and defensively since I’ve been here. We’re doing the same thing we did last year and the two previous years, so its not like its all totally different to the kids.”
All of the returnees except one had extensive playing time last year.
“We are battle tested,” Marshall said.
He said the lack of numbers has made practice difficult.
“Our biggest struggle right now is being able to have a constructive team-o and team-d,” he said. “We have to go half line. You need that backside because they have to take care of the counters, the cutbacks, the reverses and all that type of stuff. It limits you in what you can do.”
A senior and three juniors make the Owls’ offensive line a strength.
Senior Grant Harden will be at right tackle.
He will be joined by juniors Drew Williams at left guard, Lane Gaines at left tackle and James Handrich at right guard.
The center will be freshman Jacobe Jackson.
“We feel the offensive line can be a strength,” Marshall said. “We won’t be real big, but our athleticism will help us.”
The backfield includes senior quarterback Cole Cawlfield and fullback Micheal Foust and junior running back Charles Reed.
Reed had 1,017 yards and seven touchdowns and Foust added 422 yards.
“We think our backfield can be as good as anybody in this corner of the state,” Marshall said. “We’ve got to make sure we wiggle those guys free a bit.
“All of our running backs have worked hard with Coach Webb at getting better at being a running back. Instead of just top end speed, straight-line and all that type of stuff.”
Junior Riley Powell was to have been the starter at quarterback but is out for the season with a knee injury.
Marshall called Cawlfield the Owls’ best wide out.
“Now he (Powell) has turned into Coach Powell,” Marshall joked. “He’s working with our quarterbacks on foot work and things like that. He’s still part of it.”
Sophomore Andrew Barker will line up at tight end with Thatcher Smalley at flanker and Caden Elliott at X.
On the defensive side, Foust will double over at nose guard. Harden will be the tackle, senior Jay Padberg the anchor end and senior Jamal Morris at eagle end.
Harden logged 67 tackles and Padberg had 65 stops.
Handrich, who will be at middle linebacker, was the Owls’ leading tackler with 158.
Rover linebacker will be either Jackson or junior Ahkay Steers and Reed will line up at blood end.
Smalley, junior Luke Jones and Dustin Reynolds will rotate at the corners and Foust and Cawlfield will be the safeties.
Cawlfield finished with 61 tackles and four interceptions in 2017 and Foust was in on 55 tackles.