FAIRMONT — Fairmont Senior’s Gage Michael, who led the Polar Bears to two Class AA state championships, was named by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association as the winner of the J.R. House Award, given annually to the state’s top prep quarterback.
The award is named after J.R. House, the record-setting quarterback at Nitro in the late 1990s.
Fairmont Senior won state titles in 2018 and 2020 and Michael compiled a 21-3 record in 24 starts at quarterback for the Polar Bears.
Talk to anyone about Michael and all he’s accomplished in his football career at Fairmont Senior, and for all of his gifts as a player — his electricity as a runner, his arm talent as a passer, his instincts as a defender — they’ll tell you his most defining and unassailable trait is his competitiveness.
“If it’s a competition, he’s trying to win it, no matter what the case may be,” Fairmont Senior coach Nick Bartic said. “Everything that we do, to the best of his ability he’s going to try to win.”
“I call him Psycho — and I mean that in the best way possible — because of his work ethic and his competitiveness to win every drill,” said Fairmont Senior offensive coordinator Mark Sampson. “Every sprint that we run, he’s trying to win it, every rep he takes in the weight room, he’s doing an extra rep each set. Whatever it takes to win, he’s willing to do it, and that reflects in the way that he plays and the way that he leads.”
“Competing is what fuels me,” Michael said earlier this season. “I thrive for competition, I love competition.”
In the 2020 season, Michael completed 119 of 206 passes (57.7%) for 2,084 yards and 28 touchdowns, and rushed 177 times for 1,639 yards (9.3 per carry) and 17 touchdowns en route to leading the Polar Bears to a 10-2 record and the Class AA state title.
In his two seasons as Fairmont Senior’s starting quarterback, Michael threw for 4,474 yards and 55 touchdowns and rushed for 3,192 yards and 39 touchdowns, and he became the first player in school history to eclipse 8,000 yards of total offense for his career.
“I remember his first day at practice with us, we threw him in at quarterback and there was no way he knew the plays because it was his first day,” Sampson said, “and he still took the team he had right down the field and scored. He was just back there playing ball, so you could see his talent and skills even then.”
“He doesn’t make excuses,” Bartic said. “Injury, weather, a bad call, whatever the case may be, he never allows excuses to justify a poor performance — he always owns up to it and takes the blame. Even when he broke his foot last year, he didn’t use that as an excuse when we lost [to Bluefield in the semifinals].”
That rigid level of self-accountability combined with maniacal competitiveness acted as the foundation that drove Michael and the Polar Bears back to the top of Class AA in 2020, when they defeated Bluefield in a state semifinal rematch at Mitchell Stadium that ultimately served as the Class AA state title game following the cancellation of the Super Six Championships due to COVID-19.
“To go out as a senior as a state champion,” Michael said after the win, “it’s just an amazing feeling.”
South Charleston’s Trey Dunn and Spring Mills’ Keon Padmore-Johnson were also considered as top candidates for the award.