The main reason why is because the Bulldogs are blessed with one of the better quarterbacks in the area in returning senior Colin Reardon. Besides Reardon, Poland has 20 other letterwinners, but it is the Bulldog behind center who plays the biggest role. In his long and illustrious career, Reardon has thrown for over 3300 yards and 23 touchdowns including 1,413 and 15 last season. He helped Poland score 29 points per game and make the playoffs in 2010. Head coach Mark Brungard realizes that his team can’t travel far this fall without Reardon rowing the ship.
“Having a great signal caller is so important,” said Brungard after a morning practice. “He knows the offense so well. It is truly a blessing to have Colin back.”
Although Reardon has returned for his senior season, one other important part to Poland’s offense has graduated. Darius Patton has taken his immense receiving talents to Pitt so it will be imperative for coach Brungard to find other candidates to be at the other end of Reardon’s spectacular spirals.
“You are not going to replace a Division I caliber receiver,” said Brungard honestly, “but we have a group of kids who do what their talents allow. Having Colin at quarterback helps them.”
Seniors Jordan Smith (14 catches for 141 yards last year) and Connor Schultheis will team with juniors Anthony Marchionda (12 catches a year ago) and Patrick Hiznay to help make up for the departed Patton.
Even with a tremendous quarterback and upstart receivers, the Bulldogs are still a run first outfit and that is where senior rusher Jerry Lawman fits in. Lawman had 178 yards and four touchdowns in 2010 as he shared time with the graduated John Medina. Now with Medina gone it is Lawman’s turn to lay down the law.
“It is great to have a good starting running back (like Lawman),” Brungard said. “We are a run oriented offense.”
In order to keep the Poland offense pumping it will need stellar play along the offensive line. Brungard has some holes to fill along his offensive front, and even though he didn’t single out any one performer, he plans on a solid battle throughout summer camp.
“We have good competition on the offensive line,” said the coach. “We need seven or eight guys who are ready to go every week.”
Coach Brungard will also be looking for some of his kids to earn jobs as starters on the defense. The Bulldogs only have three starters returning on that side of the ball so some of the new kids will have to learn their positions quickly. So far, the coach hasn’t been too concerned with that.
“These kids are working hard and buying into what the coaches are teaching them,” he said. “Getting kids to react on defense is what we are working at. Our defense requires discipline along the defensive line and smart linebackers.”
Lawman is a very smart linebacker and will anchor the defense from his middle spot. He will be joined by junior Mike Turnbull who takes a turn at inside linebacker and Smith who should see time on the outside when he is not on offense. George Dibo is a 260 pound returning senior who will be the big man on the defensive line. Senior Jordan Voitus will also be a main contributor on the defensive line as will junior Alex Hubbell. Reardon and his receivers will have to play double-duty as they make up the defensive secondary.
As is often mentioned by coaches, football is made up of three phases and in Poland the special teams phase is certainly covered. Junior kicker Connor McFadden hit ten field goals in 2010 and connected on thirty-two extra points. This son of former Youngstown State and NFL kicker Paul McFadden has learned great instincts for the putting the ball through the goal posts.
“(Having McFadden) is right up there with having Colin back at quarterback,” Brungard bragged. “He is a master at his craft and is always working to get better. We feel confident anytime we are within 40 yards (to let McFadden kick a field goal).”
That confidence carries with the team when it has to confront the two powerhouses of the All American Red Tier. Howland is the defending champion and is definitely the team to beat this season and Canfield is Poland’s archrival who always plays its best game against the Bulldogs.
“We believe in ourselves that we can do well against those two schools,” Brungard said. “We are built a similar way to Howland and we measure ourselves each year against Howland and Canfield.”
The Bulldogs will get to measure themselves up close to the Tigers on Oct. 7 at Howland. Poland hosts the Cardinals in the traditional season closer on Oct. 28. The season starts on Thursday, Aug. 25 with Poland’s annual opener at Hubbard.
Photos by Mike Capps, Town Crier correspondent
Defensive end John Markota has a dual job as he is taught to squeeze down the line forcing the play inward to the strength of the defense and protect the outside from a possible ball carrier during the Blue-White scrimmage last week.