Firebird players are ready to put Fairmont back on top

Firebird players are ready to put Fairmont back on top

Photo: Alona Skipper

Jaryd Murphy delivers a pass in practice as Coach Fortner surveys the players.

By Daulton Cooper, Sports Editor

It only takes a few minutes with Head Coach Andy Aracri to recognize that he’s is ready for the Fairmont High School football season to begin.

“The group of guys I have this year is by far the tightest I’ve ever had,” the coach said. “They are like brothers and always have each others’ backs.” The team members have really have proven this point by wearing wristbands that show the words “family” and “trust.”

Aracri has high hopes and great confidence in his team. “We have 70 guys here every day that come to practice and work their tails off to represent this school in the best manner and to boost school spirit. Our environment is full of high expectations, and they are ready to get the job done,” he said.

The coach has seen his players grow from year to year, and he is ready for them to take over and let their talents really shine. “We have some great leaders on this team,” he said.

The senior captains are Tom West, Robert Nsenga and Danny Sales. West, the quarterback, fully understands the task ahead. “It’s a lot of hard work and an immense amount of responsibility,” West said. “I’ve had a lot of responsibility since I was a sophomore, but I now have to help the younger guys on and off the field.”

In addition to his captains, Aracri noted the leadership of senior Deven Gannon, and Gannon’s pride in the team is clear. “It feels good because we as the senior class have helped rebuild this program,” Gannon said. “Now we just want to show how much it has changed.”

Aracri also has junior captains on the team. This group consists of Brad Steel, Shawn Reliford and Tanner Woodside.

“It’s an honor for sure,” Steel said. “I’ve played under great leadership for a few years, and it’s nice to be counted among them this year. The offensive lineman said he was “pleasantly surprised” to be chosen as a junior captain. “It absolutely motivates me this year.”

Aracri is entering his third year as head football coach at Fairmont, but he also used to suit up for the Firebirds as a Fairmont student from 1993-95. He says nothing has changed from his time as a player to now as a coach.

“Every Friday night is still exciting and you gain experience each day,” Aracri said. “And if you want to make it as a coach out here, you have to learn from your decisions. We are teaching that good records and wins are just not given to teams, you have to earn them.”

Last year, the Firebirds finished 2-8 in a tough, grind-it-out season. Unlike some coaches Aracri welcomes the pressure to win. “We have 100 percent support from everybody here. To be head coach at Fairmont is a great honor, and it’s my dream job,” he said, “and I take it very seriously. Also, I believe it’s a privilege because not all schools have the pressure to succeed like the GWOC schools do.”

The team seems to be handling the pressure very well as of late. They had their first scrimmage on Aug. 17 at Roush Stadium against Xenia. The Firebirds steamrolled the Bucs 45-8. The team kicks off the season against cross-town rival Alter on Friday, Aug. 24.

At the end of the day, though, the No. 1 factor for Aracri is school spirit. “You can see the shift in operation and in the focus of this group. We have a chip on our shoulders, but it is going to take everybody from students, teachers, coaches and players to get people excited about football,” he said. “We are all in this together.”