High school football Week 1: Fairfield eager ‘to take the next step’

JuTahn McClain remembers feeling helpless watching from the sidelines with a broken hand as his Fairfield High School football team let a big lead slip away in what would have been the program’s first playoff win since 2000.

Now a senior, the standout running back and his returning teammates are motivated to finish what they could not last year.

Fairfield had opened the 2018 season 7-1 and undefeated in Greater Miami Conference play before dropping back-to-back losses to perennial powerhouse Colerain and playoff-bound Mason. The loss to Milford in the first round of the Division 1, Region 4 playoffs meant the Indians ended on a three-game losing streak.

“I thought we had it sealed off in the third quarter,” McClain recalls, as Fairfield had scored two more touchdowns for a 35-7 lead. He had broken his hand on the opening drive. “It was so hard for all of us knowing how that game slipped away. We haven’t won a playoff game in a long time, and this year we have to do something different and send a message.”






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That is just one motivating tool for Fairfield this year, though.

The Indians are playing in memory of former team manager Mason Blanchard, a special education student who passed away in May after a year-long battle with cancer. The Indians will wear a special decal with his initials and the cancer ribbon on their helmets and have retired his No. 1 jersey.

“He was a big part of our program last year and an inspiration to our players and coaches,” Fairfield coach Jason Krause said. “If they ever thought they were going through something tough, all they had to do was look at what he was going through and he was always out here with a smile through it all. It put things in perspective for them, and he’s still an important part of what we’re doing.”

McClain is another important part of what Fairfield is doing, especially early on as new quarterback Sawiah Ellis settles in as the replacement for graduate Jeff Tyus.

The Kentucky-bound running back set the school record for single-season all-purpose touchdowns last year when he reached the end zone 31 times. He rushed for 1,754 yards and 25 touchdowns and while it might seem difficult to top any of that, he has the goal of 3,000 all-purpose yards this year.

Krause said McClain is looking even stronger heading into his senior year.

“It’s hard to believe, but he’s probably a step faster than last year, he’s added about 10 pounds of body weight, gotten taller, stronger. Expectations are really high for him as a player. You’ll probably see him touching the ball in a lot of different ways.

“He will have a bulls-eye on his chest for sure. Everyone knows who he is, so he’s not sneaking up on anyone, but if anyone can improve on a year like last year it’s him because of his work ethic. He’s the total package.”

McClain hopes to take some of the pressure off Ellis but he and Krause both said the offense has really opened up this year because Ellis has speed, a good arm and has progressed quickly developing into that role.

Ellis is one of six new starters on offense, including senior lineman Kendrix Goodman and junior linemen Jabari Ashford and Ethan Tyla. Fairfield moved senior guard L.J. France to nose guard and junior right tackle Brandon Smith to defensive line as well, so although there are five new starters on that side of the ball, two of them at least have plenty of varsity experience.

“We graduated guys on defense, and I’m a defensive-minded coach, so I think it’s important you are strong there,” Krause said. “The best 11 outside of your running back and quarterback need to play defense — you have to stop people. With our offensive ability, I think we can make up for losing some of those guys on offense.”

The defensive line looks pretty strong as a whole, Krause said, noting that senior Malachi Sanders helps anchor the four-man front. Linebacker Phoenix Porter also will be a catalyst to the defense as a leader and playmaker.

Krause said his team just needs “to take the next step,” but he believes they are ready.

“It starts when you have a guy like JuTahn McClain,” Krause said. “We talked about having six new starters on defense, but two were starting offensive linemen, so we’ve got a lot of experience on defense and our offseason was tremendous. We have 36 seniors, and they want to take that next step.”

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