After nearly a decade as an assistant, Nick Bartic is now Fairmont Senior’s head coach. He believes the program is right where it needs to be.
“Coach [JL] Abbott did a great job in establishing our program’s standards and setting expectations, and our plan is to continue to do that,” said Bartic.
Abbott isn’t the only face missing at Polar Bears’ training camp. Many key players from last year’s run to the Super Six have graduated, including first-team all-state defenders Jake Abbott and Darius Stills.
With four all-state defenders gone, Bartic, a former defensive coordinator, will have some decisions to make.
“We’ve had guys that have been here for two or three years – program guys – who are going to have an opportunity this season to start and play,” said Bartic.
But the Bears do return two huge defensive presences. Dante Stills added 20 pounds of muscle for his senior campaign, a year after earning first-team all-state honors.
He’ll anchor the defensive line along with 265-pound sophomore Zach Frazier.
“You can’t replace Jake, Darius and Talon [Miller] and all them. You just can’t replace them,” said Stills. “But I trust my teammates very well, and we’ll get the job done.”
On the other side of the ball, the Bears return Bryson Gilbert, the player on the receiving end of West Side’s final touchdown in its upset of Bridgeport in last year’s state semifinal.
They’ll also feature a new starting quarterback in junior Connor Neal.
“He’s someone that’s been in our system, really since he’s been a little kid. He’s been around Polar Bear football his whole life,” said Bartic. “That said, he hasn’t started a game yet at quarterback, so that’s still going to be something new.”
Despite the disappointment that stems from their loss to Mingo Central in last year’s state final, Bartic says the Polar Bears learned a lot from their march to the Super Six. This year’s team knows a deep playoff run can only be earned through hard work.
“They haven’t earned anything yet,” said Bartic. “They’re not last year’s team. We have to deliver that home to them. Their identity is going to be different than what last season’s identity was.”