[Carl Blalock | WOUB]

Fairland football locked in on their identity after conference runner-up finish

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PROCTORVILLE, Ohio (WOUB) — Fairland comes into this season after an incredible 10-2 campaign in 2021. Defending Gridiron Glory Coach of the Year Melvin Cunningham knows one thing has avoided his grasp since he’s been at Fairland — a conference title.

“Since I’ve been here we have not won one,” Cunningham said. “We’ve finished second three times. We’ve had a couple opportunities that slipped through our hands, but we have not been able to obtain that feat yet.”

One of those three runner-up finishes came last season. An overtime loss to Ironton in week three ended up deciding the OVC title.

But as Cunningham prepares for yet another season as head coach, he remains unfazed.

“It doesn’t change what we do as a coaching staff or a team. We prepare for everyone. We understand what Ironton is and that area, their tradition speaks for itself. You got to stand up and clap for those guys. The coaching staff, the players there, they’re very good. But they’re not indicative of what we do here at Fairland. Our goal is to be better each day and we try to be the best version of ourselves so it’s not playing against Ironton that really motivates us, it’s playing against that next opponent. I mean Ironton is just one of the teams that is on our schedule every year that we have to prepare for.”

His mentality as a coach remains focused less on the playbook, and more so on the team culture.

“Culture, it drives everything that we’ve been capable of accomplishing. It’s huge here, we intentionally teach culture here on a daily basis and I really do think that’s been the biggest proponent of the success we’ve been able to accomplish. Because of the culture that we have intentionally teach. It’s the thing that pole vaults us into what we do. Winning is a byproduct of that. We don’t talk winning we talk those cultural aspects, our core values, and we feel that’s why we’re successful.”

This culture is something that is easy to see at practice, as stars from last year’s team like Stealer Leap teach technique to underclassmen. Fairland graduated a lot last year and will need some underclassmen to step up.

“I think you have to look back at last year, having the depth and the talent that we had it really pushed those guys to improve. So even in their freshman year having the seniors and some of the guys that were playing before them the competition and the way we had to complete in practice has really elevated their game and you can see it during the summer and some of the things that they did. Their whole buy-in to the weight room program and a lot of the things. We understand we still have to develop the talent that we have, we understand we’re young, but we’re not gonna make any excuses. We’re gonna grind every day and get 1% better.”

Although the Ironton rivalry is still on Cunningham’s mind, to the team, it’s just another game on the schedule.

“It’s real simple, we want to win all home games, we want to win all conference games, and we want to win the last game of the year. If we can do those things we’re sitting in a very special place. So beating Ironton it’s on there, but it’s no different than us going to Coal Grove or Chesapeake or Portsmouth or anyone else to the lineup against us. Our goal is to win.”