2013 in review — Fayetteville ended last season with a 4-6 report card, but veteran coach Frank Spangler said those numbers could very well have been reversed.
"We had real close games with Meadow Bridge (26-14), Valley (44-34) and Man," he said. "Those games we could have won very easily."
The narrow midseason setbacks were sandwiched around a tough, season-opening loss at Wahama, lopsided wins over Midland Trail and Richwood, and decisions over Buffalo and Independence as the season wound down.
Spangler was "well pleased" with his team's effort in the Independence victory, and he said the Pirates "played Greenbrier West pretty good" in a 22-6 setback in the 10th week.
Who's back — The Pirates lost eight seniors to graduation, and they were productive.
"We lost eight seniors and they played a majority of the games, and they played both ways," said Spangler.
Replacing them will be vital, but he says he has some players capable of doing just that.
Senior James Criss, who played tight end in 2013, will move to offensive tackle as the Pirates try to shore up their personnel in the trenches. "We need interior linemen," said Spangler. "He has shown great promise; he's a hard worker."
Fellow senior Caleb Bailes has also relocated to the offensive line, in the center position, after serving as back-up quarterback last fall. "He's working real hard. We think he can play there."
Other seniors back with valuable experience include linemen Zach Amato and Zach Hopkins. Offensive lineman Austin Tyree and wide receiver/quarterback/running back Troy Farrell are two of the team's three juniors and will also be counted on heavily. Farrell will play one of the inside linebacker spots.
Of the 10 seniors, all but three or four are first-time players.
"I'm really impressed with this group of players," said Spangler.
He said a solid sophomore class will be a big boost. "We have a good group of sophomores, and most of them are skill position players."
Leading the charge for the returnees from the 10th-grade class will be Will Fenton, Dalton Dempsey and David Gilliam. Fenton was the starting quarterback as a freshman and has shown improvement, his coach said. "He's throwing the ball a lot better and making better decisions. He still needs some work on his mechanics."
Dempsey will be utilized at wide receiver, wingback and free safety. "He's a good kid," said Spangler. "He's our Mr. Dependable."
Gilliam was a spot player in the backfield and should make contributions this fall, too.
New on the scene — Senior David Parsons, a first-time player, has impressed in the preseason. Parsons is being used at one of the starting inside linebackers.
"He's really stepped up and played well," Spangler said. "He's got good football instincts."
Seniors Tim Holster and Hunter Sizemore have shown good things at the wide receiver position. "They have good, good speed. They can produce," Spangler said.
Sophomore receiver Alex Hewitt and sophomore receiver/cornerback Marcus Lively should also provide quality play.
Scoring points — It's no secret that footballs should fill the air this fall — at least when Fayetteville is on offense.
"We're definitely going to throw the ball," Spangler said. "We feel like we've got the kids to do it with."
Given the team's inexperience in the line of scrimmage, Spangler says running outside or passing a lot — provided there is enough pass protection — should be the best route for the offense to be successful. "There's not a big, strong offensive line to pound the ball inside. We need to get the kids outside where they can run."
Stopping opponents — "Defensively, we don't have a lot of experience," said Spangler. "We'll try to get as many kids as we can in the rotation."
Those helping to anchor the defense should include Dempsey at free safety, Farrell at linebacker, Criss and Bailes at the ends, Gilliam at cornerback, and Sizemore and Holster.
The schedule says — A normally-tough slate stays in place for the Pirates, with the only change having Clay County replacing Wahama.
The Fayetteville-Midland Trail rivalry will see its annual installment, but it has been moved from the second week to the Friday of Bridge Day weekend (Oct. 17) at Fayetteville. It will also be the Pirates' homecoming game, one of just four outings at Fletcher Arritt Memorial Stadium on the season.
Among the games away from home will be Man, Moorefield and Buffalo. "We'll be on the road quite a bit."
All six Pirate losses last year were to playoff teams, Spangler said, and he expects the competition to be just as stiff in 2014.
Fayetteville will also have enough players to field a junior varsity team for the first time in five or six years.
Outlook — Spangler has always felt it's crucial to come out of the chute in a strong manner. This year is no different.
"If we get off to a good start, I think we can have a pretty good season," he said. "And if we can keep 'em healthy. If we get somebody hurt early, it could be devastating."
"I'm pleased with the overall attitude," he added.