The primary question is "Can Fayetteville be as good as last year?"
Head coach David Moneypenny doesn't have all the answers, but he says his team can't be counted out just yet.
In 2016, a talented Fayetteville squad raced through a 10-0 regular season en route to a 12-1 final record. The Pirates finally lost, 47-0, to eventual state champion St. Marys in the Class A semifinal round.
Key skill players, linemen and defenders have departed from that squad, which Moneypenny fully realizes.
"We lost some really good football players," he said.
But, good players return, too. "What people don't understand is that the offensive line in front of them was made up of a bunch of sophomores," Moneypenny said. Those linemen were "scrappy" but inexperienced at the time, he stressed, but they've gotten a solid year under their belt. "We feel very confident in the ability to pass the ball and run the ball."
A preseason roster of 22 concerns Moneypenny, but last year's team featured only slightly more players and the results were pretty good.
A small roster "changes probably your entire approach, especially on offense," said Moneypenny. "We just really want to stay healthy and not get anybody hurt."
Fayetteville scrimmaged the first week against the team it faced last in 2016, St. Marys. The squads played to a 1-1 standstill last Saturday in Fayetteville.
"I thought things went pretty well," Moneypenny said. "They're probably better than we are; they just have more numbers.
"But I thought we played well, defensively especially. I was also very pleased with the (progress shown by the) offense. All of us were really pleased with the effort against St. Marys."
Returning junior back Jordan Dempsey (5-foot-10, 150 pounds) will be a "big key" for the Pirates, Moneypenny said. Dempsey rushed for 1,148 yards and 19 touchdowns as a sophomore, as well as catching passes resulting in 261 yards and three more scores.
Stout senior offensive lineman Trent Pullens (5-10, 175) will anchor the offensive and defensive lines, although "he would probably play in the backfield or secondary for other teams."
Senior Tristan Coots (5-8, 140) is expected to be another crucial contributor. "Tristan played extremely well for us not only in quarterback but also in non-quarterback positions" in the scrimmage against St. Marys. "He will be very versatile."
Moneypenny said Dempsey and Coots are in the running for the signal-caller spot. Dempsey started several games under center in his freshman year when starter Will Fenton was injured, while Coots was Fenton's back-up last year. "We really don't know yet. Either one can start. I don't know who's going to get the first snap," Moneypenny said.
Among the other players Fayetteville is counting on are 5-8, 170-pound senior linebacker/running back Dustin Bailey and 6-0, 160-pound senior Jacob White.
"Most of those guys won't be coming off the field," Moneypenny said of the top returnees.
Among the main newcomers are 6-1, 200-pound sophomore linebacker Logan Frantz, who attended Greater Beckley Christian in his freshman year. "Logan made quite a presence on our defense," said Moneypenny.
Freshman running back Eli Sedlock (5-6, 135) has also provided quality minutes. "He had a really good scrimmage," Moneypenny said.
Moneypenny says Fayetteville will adopt a new offensive scheme. "Less in the air, more on the ground" was his summation.
In addition to Pullens, key players leading the way in the trenches will be a four-pack of juniors — Jude Browning (5-8, 180), Skylar Neal (5-8, 155), Sam Criss (6-3, 210) and Sammy Pullens (5-9, 165).
In 2016, the high-octane Pirates went 10-up and 10-down against their opponents in the regular season. They then defeated Van and Wheeling Central in home playoff games before falling to St. Marys in the semifinals.
Moneypenny admits it will be a "tough task" to match the production of that senior-dominated squad.
"It's going to be tough to do that again, but I think these kids have a lot to prove," the coach said. "They've been working hard."
The players feel "overshadowed" by last year's team, and "I think that drives them," said Moneypenny. "They want to create their own identity."
Fayetteville begins that quest against a new foe, Wyoming East, on the road on Aug. 25.
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