By Luke Wiggs
HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. — Last season, the Hedgesville Eagles were 1 win away from their first playoff berth since 2018, and their first in the Matt Faircloth era. Unfortunately, a late conceded touchdown against Princeton in week 8 saw the Eagles reside to a 4-6 record.
However, the offseason has yielded nothing but optimism for their 3rd year head coach.
“We played a lot of youth last year,” said coach Faircloth. “So we have a lot of experience returning this year.”
For Faircloth, it was a bit of a process rebuilding the Hedgesville program that lost all 7 games his first season.
“When we took the program over, 26 kids came back.” Faircloth said. “After that it was ‘How can we revamp this? How can we create the culture we want to create?’ Now we’re at 110 kids.”
One of the Eagles standout returners is senior Quarterback Jackson Ruest.
“He’s a 6 foot 4 gunslinger for us. There’s not a throw he can’t make.” Faircloth said, “He’s developed in the offseason, grew and got stronger. So we’re looking for a big season from him.”
The biggest loss offensively for the Eagles was last year’s star running back Nathan Albright
“He was a workhorse for us. In the Martinsburg game, he carried the ball 32 times.” Faircloth said. “It’s hard to replace a workhorse but I think Kyle Whaley stepping up this year, we know what we’re getting in him. Pound for pound he’s one of the strongest kids in our program and he’s going to be lightning this year.”
Hedgesville figures to be very strong up front despite 2 starters departing from last year’s offensive line.
“We’ll take Eli (Faircloth) who played tight end for us last year at 6 foot 7, 285 pounds and was our leading receiver and move him down to tackle this year.” Faircloth said. “At the next level that’s what everyone sees him as so we’re going to get him prepared for that.”
Eli will start alongside his brother Levi, an all conference guard last season. Nate Lamb and Dru Milton also return for an offensive line built for a very run-heavy scheme last season, but expecting a more balanced scheme this year.
“We have Tanner Matthews back, 6 foot 4 wide receiver, really athletic and had a big summer at camps, really moved up some college scouting boards.” Faircloth said, “Ean Wolfe is a guy we developed here who tore his ACL last year but fought back and is now looking really
good. Brett Pederson, 6 foot 3 sophomore, is a hybrid type guy. We’ll use him outside and in the slot, so you’ll see more of a spread look as we get the ball to some athletes.”
Defensively, Hedgesville struggled to the tune of 27 points allowed per game, but returning pieces up front look to be formidable foes to opposing offenses.
“Eli and Levi (Faircloth) will have a big impact there this year.” Faircloth said. “As far as the D-line goes, we have enough stock piled there that I think we’ll be ok.”
At linebacker, the Eagles feature perhaps one of the best groups in the EPAC. Nick Wood leads the way having played significant time as a freshman,
“He’s an outside backer for us, really has put on a lot of size.’ Faircloth said. “Jake Young is a guy for us, we knew he was a guy when he was 7 years old. He and Whaley will be in the interior.”
“On the back end is where everyone will say ‘Oh, you lost a lot of pieces there’ well Tanner Matthews is going to step in, Xavier Kirk as well at corner.” Faircloth said, “Demonte Martin at safety, just mixing some young pieces in. We gave these guys time to develop so now they’re ready.”
Hedgesville opens up the season just as they have 14 of the last 15 years, with panhandle rival Washington on Thursday, August 25th.