With as devastatingly dominant as Fairfield was throughout the 2013 season, there was plenty of credit to go around.
The Eagles set a single-season Class 3A record with 893 points, an average of nearly 60 per contest, and they allowed fewer than 10 points in half of their 16 games and only 197 overall.
The result was a historic season in Fairfield that ended just shy of the school’s first-ever state championship, as it dropped a heartbreaking 38-33 decision to Argyle in the Class 3A Division II title tilt.
But nothing lasts forever in high school football, and should the Eagles maintain any semblance of the standard it set last season, it will likely be because of a defense led by a pair of all-state performers in Dedrick Gardner and Devin Eggins.
“The defense will have to play well until we get the offense going,” Fairfield coach John Bachtel said. “We’ve only got two guys back on offense. We graduated a lot of good seniors who were great leaders. But Dedrick and Devin did a good job of leading the guys through our summer workouts and our 7-on-7.”
With five starters returning defensively, the Eagles are much more settled on that side of the ball, while they have a massive rebuilding job to do offensive and only two starters back to help.
The Eagles’ offense won’t have Larry Rose running for nearly 3,000 yards and getting the ball into the end zone 51 times. It won’t have Jacob Gallegos throwing for 2,463 yards and 28 scores, and it won’t have standouts such as Kolton Gatson and Andrew Grant anchoring an offensive line that made it all possible.
To be fair, the defense also suffered losses, including defensive back Alex Ward and his six interceptions and five fumble recoveries, and two-way standout Chris Lide.
But the defense is secure in the knowledge that it can rely on Gardner and Eggins.
Gardner, a 6-foot-2, 235-pounder, was an immovable object in the middle of the Eagles’ line. He was constantly in the backfield, racking up 109 tackles, 28 of which went for loss with 13 sacks.
He’ll have help on the line from Josh Gallegos, who was also a dominating force at times.
“I have a lot of confidence in (my teammates),” Gardner said. “I trust them a lot.”
Whatever the defensive line couldn’t stuff, Eggins was more than happy to handle himself.
Despite weighing in at only 5-8, 155, not a single team could keep Eggins off its ballcarriers. He got there 202 times for stops with 20 tackles for loss.
Both Gardner and Eggins are quiet leaders who let their play speak for itself, something they learned from those who came before them.
“There wasn’t much arguing,” Eggins said. “They were always staying positive with each other. They just kept going and never put their head down.”
Expectations are again high in Fairfield, as Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine has picked the Eagles to win the newly formed District 7-4A Division II.
“We’re worried about what’s in front of us, but the district did get a whole lot tougher with Connally and Lorena in,” Bachtel said. “We’re also going to play some of those Waco schools in nondistrict to get ready for district.”
Fairfield dominated Groesbeck (55-7), Mexia (72-0) and Rusk (61-0) in district play last year, and it blasted a talented Connally squad, 69-12, in the second round of the playoffs. The only team in the district the Eagles haven’t had success against lately is Lorena, which bounced them from the playoffs in back-to-back seasons before last year’s run to the championship game.
Still, even though he knows it will be difficult to match what Fairfield did last season, having Gardner and Eggins back in the fold gives Bachtel plenty of confidence.
“Dedrick has a lot of speed up front, and he’s really strong,” Bachtel said. “And Devin is undersized, but his heart probably weights as much as he does. What we’re going to do is keep it real simple like we did last year. It’s going to be about going on to the next play. The next play is the most important play. We’re not worried about who we’re playing against. We just want to keep getting better.”