LANDOVER – Senior Jaron Fernandors sat at home, watching Frederick Douglass High School represent the county in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) 1A State Championship game.
Still bothered by losing to them in the regional semifinals two weeks prior, one sentiment rang through the Fairmont Heights High School wide receiver’s mind.
“I feel like that could have been us in that position,” Fernandors said.
The Hornets stunned the county football world with a stunning 8-2 regular-season record and reaching the 1A south regional championship game.
With a surging amount of interest from the student body and the return of huge centerpieces from last year’s roster, Fairmont Heights is preparing to show they are worth the hype.
The success of last year has rubbed onto school, with students inquiring how to join the team after the 2018 season ended.
Coming into training camp this year, Hornets Head Coach Rodney Williams has already replaced the 12 players lost due to graduation as 30 players are on the varsity roster in the first week of training camp and 20 on the junior varsity.
Numbers will continue to grow following the freshman orientation, and once school begins, Williams said.
“Now, we are able to go further into on what we are trying to do, go quicker because the guys understand what we are trying to execute,” Williams said. “So I am able to move faster than I have been in the prior years.”
Before the start of the 2018 season, the program was improving but did not have a winning record in Williams’ first two seasons as head coach. The interest in the program was down, forcing the coach to stick with a 24-man roster, giving his team the nickname “quality 24” for those who made the team.
Despite defeating two 4A schools in the first two weeks of the season, (Parkdale and Laurel), it was their narrow victories between Potomac and Oxon Hill where Williams said the team believed they were special.
The Hornets went on a seven-game winning streak and only lost once to a county opponent in the regular season before their loss in the playoffs against Douglass.
While the majority of the team returns for the upcoming season, two major pieces that need to be replaced are quarterback Anthony Craven and running back Kemani Rhodes. The pairing was essential in leading the Hornets to score 316 points last season.
For the running game, the main weapon will be Jamal Lone, who carried for over 1,352 rushing yards and scored 16 touchdowns last season, according to Williams.
Emerging sophomore Jayden Sellman and Fernandors will join the 5-foot-11 senior in a run by committee system. Normally, playing as a slot wide receiver, Fernandors will be the Hornets’ second option at tailback, the role that Lone played for Fairmont Heights last season.
“Kemani Rhodes is a tough guy to replace because he did some things without blocking at times,” Williams said. “His will was on another level, but these guys here have come in and can do different things in terms of the run game is concerned. And I feel good about it because these guys are ready.”
“I think we are pretty solid this year,” Fernandors said. “I believe that we have more athletes this year and everyone is committed to win this season.”
As for the quarterback position, Williams announced that he will play with two passers this season and alternate them throughout the season. First-year player and junior Doween Simpson and sophomore Shaheed Wooten, who was the starter last season in junior varsity, will be rotated into the role. Wooten will get more snaps when Simpson plays wide receiver but does not make him the starter, Williams said.
“Everything is by committee,” Williams said. “We have a couple of packages for them because we do not have one solid quarterback because we lost our quarterback.”
On defense, the Hornets only surrendered 164 points last year and shut out three teams, including earning a 6-0 win over Laurel. Much of their success against bigger teams was mental, Williams said, as players focused heavily on the film study. Senior linebacker Ricardo Jackson will lead the defensive core and carry the same studious mentality. Jackson said the new secondary, which will feature Sellman and several players coming up from the junior varsity.
“We have replaced all our corners and safeties that we had from last year, and they could be better than the ones we had last year,” Jackson said. “They want it, they are aggressive and hungry.”
For Williams, returning Fairmont Heights to its glory days of the 1980s has been his goal since taking the job in his alma mater in 2016. Being a part of the 1987 team that lost in the state finals and the last time the Hornets played in the title game is a part of the motivation to give his players a chance to go above the highs of his career.
The Hornets first game of the year will be against Westlake High School on Sept. 6 with hopes of continued success.
“I am living and walking proof that Fairmont Heights used to be on top when I played,” Williams said. “My sole goal is to get these guys the taste of success I had when I was playing from Fairmont that’s why our motto has been ‘stay together, win together.’ They believe in me, and I believe in them, and that’s why we are moving in the right direction.”