By Luke Wiggs, Panhandle News Network Sports
Martinsburg, W.Va– The 3rd day of August in 2021 may not be a day that immediately comes to mind to Hedgesville Eagle football fans, but it has a certain significance to head coach Matt Faircloth.
A 14-12 victory over Warren County was certainly not front-page news, but it snapped a streak of 1,028 days since the Eagles had recorded their last win.
2 years and a playoff appearance later, Hedgesville has become one of the most intriguing teams in Class AAA.
2022 was a mixed bag for the Eagles who started 3-0 then dropped 5 of their next 6 games. A definitive 61-8 week 11 victory over Hampshire sealed up a .500 season and with it, Hedgesville’s 4th postseason appearance in the 2000’s.
The Eagles suffered key losses on offense highlighted by quarterback Jaxson Ruest and tackle Eli Faircloth, who committed to play at Shepherd University.
This year’s starting quarterback won’t be a complete stranger to the position as junior Dalton Harper was forced into action several times in 2022 including orchestrating a game-winning drive against EPAC rival Spring Mills when Ruest suffered a hand injury.
“Neither of them shy away from contact,” Faircloth said about his starting QB last year and his QB to be for this upcoming season. “If a backer gets in their way they’re not going to juke them they’re going to go through them. Dalton has a Laser of an arm.”
The offensive line returns two key contributors but Hedgesville is calling on some key replacements to fill the gaps.
“Levi (Faircloth) is back, Connor Quinn is back those are really our two guys,” Faircloth said. “Brett Pederson, who played tight end for us is going to move to tackle and he looks really good. Kyler High got reps as a JV center and in the Musselman and Spring Mills game last year will play for us and we have Nazaiah Newman who I think a lot of people are going to notice this year.”
Hedgesville went through an offensive makeover from the ’21 to ’22 seasons, shifting from a single-wing heavy run approach to a more spread option but the Eagles still maintain the ability to run the football, returning starter Jake Young.
“He took a boatload of carries.” Faircloth said. “Zaki Bryant has transferred in and looks really good, can give Jake a spell. Jake can take it between the tackles and catch out of the backfield as well, Zaki is fast as lightning.”
The wide receiver room may be the most star-studded for the boys from West Berkeley County, led by Demonte Martin and transfer Gavin Young (both receiving heavy collegiate interest) the two are expected to feed off each other well.
“Demonte works, his work ethic is hardly matched.” Faircloth said. “And you can really see the progression from where he was to where he is now. When your best players work hard it’s makes everything much easier.”
“Gavins a quiet kid, doesn’t say much.” Faircloth said. “He can work well with Demonte because if you don’t double Martin it’s going to give you issues, but if you do, it opens up Gavin.”
Hedgesville’s hopes don’t just lie with their main targets on offense, but rather a healthy stable of pass catchers to shoulder the load.
“Nate Noe and Ein Wolfe are longer lankier athletes who we can put on the outside.” Faircloth said. “Jacob Care is a Swiss army knife that can catch passes for us, a very physical kid.”
Defensively, the Eagles aren’t afraid of two-way players, especially up front, and especially defensive lineman Connor Quinn.
“Nobody realizes how good he is.” Faircloth said. “I think this year can really be a take-off year for him. He and Nazaiah are going to play defensive tackle for us.”
The Eagles will be bookended by returnees Durrell Johnson and Josh Barrett.
Levi Faircloth is also projected to play both ways. However, the 6’4, 275-pound offensive lineman will not be joining Quinn upfront, instead, he’ll be playing middle linebacker where he saw a lot of work last season.
“He’s probably in the best shape he’s been in moving around.” Faircloth said. “We like a guy like that who can bang in the middle.”
At linebacker, Hedgesville is expected to be extremely athletic.
“Silas Grove has come a long way for us, put on really good size and has looked good in camp.” Faircloth said. “Bryant and Young will spell each other so whoever isn’t getting carries will play backer and vise versa.”
The defense will also feature transfer Aydin Flemming, who is considered by many to be the top edge rusher in the state. Though, that isn’t the full extent of his skill set.
“We’re going to turn Ayden loose.” Faircloth said. “There’s going to be times when he’s in coverage and times when he’s at the line of scrimmage.”
To no surprise, a fantastically athletic Eagle football squad is expected to have depth in the secondary.
“Jacob Care will play a hybrid safety for us with Woody Smith backing him up.” Faircloth said. “Woody Smith, who we have high expectations for, they’re both really athletic and love contact.”
“Nate Noe is 6’2 and athletic, a physical kid at the point of contact.” Faircloth said about his cornerbacks. “Jazir Spruce has looked really good, he’s really fast. Ramsey Button will be a solid 2-way player for us as well.”
Hedgesville will leave nothing to the imagination this season featuring one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the state, highlighted by perennial AAA powerhouse Wheeling Park week one, and two projected top 10 AA teams in Keyser and Herbert Hoover.
The aforementioned week two regional rivalry matchup against Keyser will be featured as our Panhandle News Network game of the week.