Dragons seek to win in other ways
By PAUL BOGGS
Photo’s by Kent Sanborn
PROCTORVILLE – The number of players – nearly 45 – for the Fairland Dragons doesn’t worry head coach Melvin Cunningham.
What concerns Cunningham is how to replace almost 3,000 yards and exactly 38 touchdowns of total offense.
But, where there is a will, there is indeed a way – and Cunningham’s club intends to find a way to win games this season, despite some key losses from last season’s playoff squad.
After all, Fairland’s fifth-year head coach said his team “expects to win” – no matter who suits up for the Green this year.
“We don’t operate on the word ‘surprise.’ We expect to win and we sell our kids nothing less than that. We have kids that graduate or lose to injury or something else all the time, but we have to find a way to make up for those losses. It doesn’t matter who we are lining up against or how old and experienced we are,” said Cunningham. “We always expect to win and we need to find a way to win.”
For the past four seasons, especially in last year’s 6-4 regular campaign which included a Division IV playoff berth, Joel Lambiotte drove the Dragons’ car with his arm.
Lambiotte, now at Marshall University, landed Division IV third-team all-Ohio quarterback honors – after easily earning first-team all-Southeast District.
His school-record passing numbers didn’t lie either – 153 completions on 238 attempts for 2,370 yards and 27 touchdowns with five interceptions.
He also rushed 74 times for 605 yards and 11 scores.
“Losing a player like Joel obviously has a huge impact. Not only was he a leader and such a good player on the field and worked so hard at his craft, he led off the field by example and was even more impressive at that,” said Cunningham. “We’re going to miss him, but we’ll have to adjust.”
The Dragons also graduated two of Lambiotte’s key linemen – Jacob Rankin and Zeke Ramey.
Fairland was also dealt a serious blow during a preseason scrimmage – when senior wide receiver Reilly Sowards, an all-district first-teamer which caught 49 passes for 635 yards and 10 touchdowns, suffered a broken collarbone.
Should Sowards return, it likely won’t be until late in the year.
That makes fellow first-team all-district wideout Gavin Hunt (6-0, 150, Jr.)
Hunt had 762 yards and five touchdowns on 42 receptions last season.
Stitt, as part of Fairland’s spread-the-field attack, added 549 rushing yards for almost eight yards per carry.
Brennan West (5-8, 150, Sr.), who caught 14 passes for 268 yards, will figure much more into the Dragons’ passing plans, as will fullback J.D. Brumfield (5-9, 195, So.) and Tevin Taylor (5-9, 155, So.) and Jordan Williams (6-2, 215, Jr.).
Williams, a speedster transfer from Hurricane (W. Va.), can play either receiver or line up in the backfield.
But as for throwing the football to all these athletes?
Cunningham said that preseason camp has been a three-way battle between six-foot, 162-pound junior Max Ward and sophomores Tyler Sammons and Zander Schmidt.
“A lot of what we do on offense involves the play of the quarterback, and obviously this year, our quarterbacks are young and inexperienced,” said the coach. “We have three guys this year that are all working hard to get better and we believe all three will get better as the season goes along.”
Ward threw five passes last season and Sammons three, while Schmidt transferred in from arch-rival Chesapeake.
“It’s going to take some adjustments to figure out who we are and what we are as a football team, but we’ll figure it out in some kind of way. It’s just like every year. That’s what we do. We know what Hunt and Stitt and even Sowards can do, but there are other guys we are counting on getting the ball to and we expect them to contribute,” said Cunningham. “Last year, Joel (Lambiotte) was the strength of our team, but this year we have depth and ability at other positions that will be our strengths.”
One area the coach anticipates becoming a strength is the offensive line, which right now is young and inexperienced.
“We have a lot of new guys on the line and we have work to do there. They are getting better and progressing each day, but we are young and we need to learn fast. It’s a process, but our offensive line’s goal is to get better each day,” said Cunningham. “A lot of work to do.”
Kyle Rankin (6-2, 200, Sr.) returns as the Dragons’ anchor at guard, while sophomore Casey Hudson (6-3, 210) or senior Colton Tackett (5-10, 190) is the other.
The center candidates are sophomores James Johnson (6-1, 280) and Seth Dement (5-7, 165), while junior Logan Hamlin (6-4, 255) saw some playing time at tackle.
Two other potential tackles are seniors Kobe Newman (6-5, 250) and Jordan Wellman (6-1, 255), as Newman missed all of last year.
Regardless of personnel changes, Fairland’s offensive philosophy remains the same.
“Here at Fairland, we make teams try to cover the entire width of the football field. All 53 yards. We have good athletes that we want to get out in space and find those gaps and use their speed,” said Cunningham. “We want 15 open spaces and force the defense to defend all the width and length of the field.”
The Dragons also aim to utilize their speed on defense – and win the battle of big plays plus turnovers.
“Two stats stand out to us on defense. Creating turnovers and giving up big plays. We want to create turnovers and win at least 80-percent of the big plays. We want to be fast on defense, cause havoc, fly to the football and make good solid tackles,” said Cunningham. “We feel like we have a deep, experienced, speedy and solid defensive team.”
The Dragons’ depth and experience exists within their front seven, as linebackers Brumfield, Blaine Cremeans (6-0, 180, Sr.) and Riley Kazee (5-9, 210, So.) return to anchor the unit.
Cremeans – an all-district Honorable Mention selection – amassed 109 tackles including eight for loss, as Brumfield added 25 pounds and returns on the inside along with Kazee.
“I’ve never coached a kid quite like Blaine Cremeans, who doesn’t say a word but just leads by example and just goes so hard on every single play. His motor and energy are incredible,” said Cunningham. “Then both Brumfield and Kazee are coming off really good freshmen seasons, so we are expecting a lot of big things from them this year.”
The front four feature senior Bryan Defoe (5-8, 150), Rankin, Newman, Hudson and Williams, while Schmidt, Taylor and Rhiyder Slone (5-7, 215, Sr.) are the outside backers.
West will return at safety, headlining three returning starters in the secondary, which also includes the defensive standout Stitt at cornerback along with Hunt.
Stitt was also an all-district Honorable Mention choice.
Gabe Williams and Sam Ward will rotate at cornerback as well.
Blake Sammons is the Dragons’ punter this season, while junior Emma Marshall – a standout cross country runner and girls basketball player – is the placekicker.
“Emma is an exceptional athlete and has really improved,” said Cunningham. “She is doing a good job and working hard and we plan to use her and see what she can do on Friday nights. I’ve never seen a person who didn’t know how to do something and taught herself how to do something and now she’s doing it well. We were talking about kicking one day and she watched a video on how to kick. It started as something funny, but has turned into something serious.”
What isn’t a laughing matter is the Dragons’ competition in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Although Ironton is the consensus preseason favorite, Cunningham knows the entire league will be a difficult challenge.
Head Coach Melvin Cunningham
- Current Team
“There’s a lot of talent and a lot of good coaches in the OVC right now. It’s going to be so competitive, but Ironton has to be the best team going in,” he said. “Gallia Academy is the defending champion, Rock Hill is going to be good, and Talyn Parker at Portsmouth can win games by himself.”
For Fairland, its edition of Parker was Lambiotte last season.
But this year, the Dragons do expect to win – in other ways.
Fairland 2019 Roster & Stats
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