by Duane Cochran for FightingFalcons.com
FAIRMONT, W.Va. – One area of concern for Fairmont State University's football coaches heading into the 2011 season was finding a suitable replacement for venerable national record-setting return man Zack Page who was lost to graduation.
The Falcons had a number of worthy candidates vying for the job in preseason camp, but Thursday night in the team's season-opening 31-17 victory over visiting Clarion (Pa.) University at Duvall-Rosier Field, it was junior receiver Matt Wilmer who made a bold statement with his play showing why he's the right man for the job.
Wilmer returned a pair of punts for 101 yards, including a school-record 93-yard return for a touchdown to help lead FSU to the win. In addition, he also returned two kickoffs for a total of 75 yards, including a 41-yarder.
Wilmer, a 6-foot, 190-pound converted running back from Keyser, actually got the jump on his competition when he turned in an impressive audition for the job as a replacement for the injured Page in the Falcons' final game of the 2010 season against West Virginia State. In that contest, Wilmer returned four punts for 145 total yards, including a 77-yarder for a touchdown and a 53-yarder which took the ball to the Yellow Jackets' one-yard line and set up another FSU TD.
With the 93-yard return and the 77-yard return Wilmer now has the dubious honor of holding two of the top five spots in school history for longest punt returns. For his career he has seven total punt returns for 240 yards and two touchdowns.
“I'm out there just trying to do my job,” said Wilmer with a smile Thursday evening after the Falcons' win. “We really pride ourselves here on having solid special teams play and on those returns tonight I just got some great blocking from my teammates. Give them the credit.”
Ironically, Wilmer missed all of spring ball for the Falcons due to a rotator cuff injury which forced him to have arthroscopic surgery during the off season. Thursday, however, he showed no ill effects from the injury or the layoff.
“It definitely was hard for me to have to stand there the whole spring and just watch,” he said. “I really wanted to be out there getting some work in. I'll tell you, though, it felt pretty good being back out there on the field and when I reached the end zone on that long return I went a little crazy. I couldn't believe it. I'm not going to lie I was pretty excited. It felt really, really good.”
David Pack Is Back
Fairmont State's senior linebacker turned in a solid performance in Thursday's season-opening win over the Golden Eagles registering eight tackles, including a team-high 1.5 for losses. He also broke up one pass.
Pack, who transferred to FSU as a sophomore, enjoyed a stellar first season with the Falcons in 2009 when he finished second on the squad with 68 total tackles, including 41 solo stops. He had four tackles for loss that year, one sack, one pass interception, one forced fumble and broke up a pair of pass attempts.
Last fall Pack's production on the field fell off. He played in just seven games and finished with 24 total tackles, including one for a loss.
“To be honest I'm not satisfied with the way I performed or really with the way we performed as a defense on the whole, but the most important thing is that we won and we know we have the potential to improve,” said Pack, a 6-2, 235-pounder from Charleston. “I know there's more expected of me this year and I want to fulfill that role. I'm a senior and I believe I'm being counted on to be more of the leader this year. I'm really not a big, vocal guy. Instead I'm more of a leader by example. I just want to play consistent week in and week out.”
Sampson Finds Pay Dirt
Since transferring from West Virginia University last season former John Marshall High School standout Mark Sampson has bided his time with the Falcons waiting for his opportunity to contribute.
This fall it appears as though Sampson, a 5-10, 190-pound junior slot receiver for FSU, will get that chance. Last year Sampson saw action in five games and caught a pair of passes for 16 yards. Thursday night he hauled in a six-yard pass, but it went for Fairmont's second touchdown of the game and it was the first of his college career in the Falcons' 31-17 victory over Clarion.
“I knew coming into this season that I was going to be called upon a little more to play a bigger role and it feels pretty good for me to have that opportunity,” said Sampson. “I want to do whatever I can to help this team win.
“Getting that touchdown felt really good. Football is a team game and it takes all members of a team working together to have success. I couldn't have made that play if it weren't for the line and the backs blocking, Logan (Moore) putting the ball right there and the other receivers running their routes.
“Sometimes its hard being patient and waiting for your opportunity to contribute to come, but you know this team here is like a family. We're there for each other, picking each other up and pushing each other every day to improve so that when the opportunity to play presents itself we can take advantage of it and have success.”