When Poland played Cardinal Mooney in the Division III Regional Championship last November it was one of the most memorable moments in Poland football history.
Although the Bulldogs were beaten 24-7 in that game, the great run Poland had throughout the playoffs is something for the team to build upon this season. With some important players returning in 2010, another 10-win season, another All American Red Tier championship and a fourth straight trip to the postseason is very possible for Poland.
“We hope (last year’s playoff run) transfers to this year,” said Poland head coach Mark Brungard via cell phone. “It gave us a level of confidence. We know our program is about winning. We have high expectations.”
Fulfilling those expectations may not be too difficult since Poland returns four starters on each side of the ball. Brungard is extremely thankful to have junior quarterback Colin Reardon back for another shot at a state title. Reardon recorded nearly 2,000 yards passing in ’09 and had eight touchdown passes to go along with five rushing touchdowns. The junior also has gifts that go far beyond the stat sheet.
“Colin has special talents and is a great leader,” Brungard brags. “Having a returning quarterback will be a strength for us.”
Don’t think for one moment that Brungard, a former quarterback himself, won’t have some fun this year utilizing that strength.
“We will throw as much as ever,” says Brungard excitedly. “A lot will be on (Colin’s) shoulders. We will spread it out, play a lot of three and four wide sets and put it down the field.”
When Reardon does throw it, he will have one heck of a target. Senior receiver Darius Patton made third team All-Ohio in 2009 thanks to a 41-catch, 725-yard output last year. With another year of experience he should jump to first team this season. Patton was put on the first team of the All-Northeast Ohio Inland team and has received as many as 16 scholarship offers from college football programs aching to gain such a gifted player.
“Patton is a great receiver and a great athlete,” Brungard says.
Seniors Anthony Machi and Mike Costello will flank Patton at receiver and their great summer has the coaching staff eager to see what they can do come the regular season. The Bulldogs also like to use the tight ends a lot in the passing game and as blockers and thankfully they have a trio of tights who are terrific. Senior Noah Hochendoner, senior Ben Tadla and junior Jordan Voitus will all rotate for Brungard at tight end.
The biggest hole in the Poland offense will come at running back where the Bulldogs must replace all-around weapon Luke Wollet. Wollet, a first team All-Ohio selection, was Poland’s leading rusher the past few seasons and a pass-catching threat as well. The competition in camp at running back has been as fierce as it has been in a long time in Poland leaving Brungard to think that his rushing attack may be OK.
“We have a nice group of backs,” says the coach. “We won’t have one man (like Wollet) so we will have to do it by committee.”
That committee will be made up of senior John Medina, senior Clay Cooper and junior Jerry Lawman.
Whoever is toting the rock will need good blocking up front and that is another area of the offense that seems to be solid. Senior Nick Sebastian will play right tackle. Senior David Bobby was moved to center this year and junior George Dibo is a letter winner on the line. Add to that trio senior Dan Sikora and junior Dan Kreatsoulas and Poland has the makings of an outstanding offensive front five.
“We are solid up front with three returnees,” Brungard says. “We will win or lose on the offensive line. Our line has to be good.”
The same thing can be said about the defensive line and that may be one area of concern for the Bulldogs this season. Poland is very inexperienced along the defensive front seven with depth posing a problem as well. Sebastian and Dibo will play on the line, Lawman and Cooper will be inside linebackers, Tadla and Voitus will be on the outside, Patton and Machi will be at the corners and Costello will be one of the safeties. Heading into September, Brungard theorizes that he has the talent on defense to compete, but realizes that his team cannot afford for one of those kids to go down with an injury.
“We need to stay healthy on defense because of our inexperience,” he says. “Our defensive group runs very well and should stop the run well, which is important in our league.”
The Bulldogs are the reigning Red Tier title holders, but will be challenged by Howland, who may be the league favorite in 2010, and arch nemesis Canfield. Before the Bulldogs get to those games, however, they must play a non-conference slate that starts on Thursday, Aug. 26 at home against Hubbard then continues with Division I representative Fitch and a road trip to Marlington.
“We have three really good teams to start the season,” announced Brungard. “Those first three games will be a challenge.”
If Poland escapes unscathed through that Bermuda Triangle and does well inside the conference then another playoff invitation should be extended. Then, maybe, coach Brungard and the rest of Bulldog Nation can worry about a rematch with their friends from Mooney.
“(Playing Mooney in the playoffs) is the furthest thing from our minds (right now),” Brungard says sternly. “There is a long way to go before a rematch happens.”
The coach then paused a moment and added, “It would be awesome though.”
Photo by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Poland head football coach Mark Brungard poses with standout receiver Darius Patton, who in entering his senior year with the Bulldogs has already received 16 scholarship offers from college football programs. Read the story inside and don't miss the Town Crier's Fall Sports Scrapbook, coming Sept. 2.