There have been three certainties over the past five years: death, taxes and Poland's football team playing in the Division III state playoffs.
Last season, the Bulldogs finished the year 7-4 (3-1 in the All American Red Tier) before bowing out of the big dance in round one by just one point to Minerva. Despite having only four starters returning from that playoff participant and losing two major offensive contributors in quarterback Colin Reardon and running back Jerry Lawman, Poland still has 24 seniors to lean on. With all of those veterans in camp, head coach Mark Brungard can't wait for his team's opener on Aug. 23 at Marlington.
"We're excited to get started," said Brungard over the phone recently. "We will try to win our conference first and then make it back to the playoffs for the sixth year in a row."
In order to make the post season, Poland must come up with a viable replacement for three-year starter Reardon and his nearly 1,000 yards passing from a year ago. Junior Jake Wolfe only totaled two starts so far in his quarterbacking career, but he seems to be the man coach Brungard wants in there to replace Reardon.
"Wolfe is the incumbent," said Brungard. "He is a smart kid who will run the offense well."
There will be no running nor any protection for Wolfe if the Bulldogs don't establish themselves along the offensive line. That group was hit hard by graduation so at this time the Bulldogs are still formulating their rotation up front.
"We need to find good, quick offensive linemen," said Brungard. "We need to come together on the offensive line."
Senior letterman Shane Evan is a 240-pounder who should help anchor the interior. Evan could eventually be joined by 250-pound senior letterman A.J. Herdman, 230-pound senior letter winner Jason Velasquez and senior letter Jake Moffo. Senior Alex Hubbell was a first team all-conference selection last season and will be the baddest Bulldog along the defensive front. Hubbell will get help from senior letters Matt Robich and Nick Sesonsky.
Finding the right combination of kids to toil in the trenches is so important to Poland's success because the other spots in the lineup, sans the strong safety spot, seem fairly stacked according to Brungard.
"I think the skill positions and our linebackers are our strengths," said the coach confidently. "We have depth there."
Leading the linebackers will be a trio of returning letter winners. Seniors Anthony Kosec and Mike Turnbull will team with junior Mike Audi to form a truly terrific defensive triumvirate. That group along with Evan and Hubbell helped the Bulldogs rank near the top of the defensive charts a season ago in both run defense and pass defense.
The other seniors who earned varsity letters in 2011 and will add to that skill position depth coach Brungard spoke of are Austin Erhardt, Patrick Lyons, Patrick Hiznay, James Davis, Adrian Vitus, Steven Hross, Tad Duran, Anthony Marchionda, Angelo Vardavas and Jed Lankitus.
As everyone knows a football team must not only be good on offense and defense, but it better be sound on special teams if it is to win more games than it loses. Thankfully the Bulldogs are blessed with one of the best kickers in the state in 6-foot, one-inch senior letterman Connor McFadden. Connor can sometimes control an entire game with one foot.
"(McFadden) is a veteran," Brungard bragged. "Anywhere from 45 yards in we're confident (he'll make a field goal). He also gives us great defensive field position with his kickoffs."
Poland also has letter winning kicker Brendin Peters returning for his senior season.
One part of Poland's kicking game that is in flux at this moment is the punting unit.
"Finding a punter will be important," stated Brungard. "Reardon was overlooked as an all-league punter and we will need to replace him."
The Bulldogs also had to do some replacing when making out their 2012 schedule. The additions of Struthers and Hubbard to the Red Tier have shaken up Poland's slate. The annual kickoff game with the Eagles for instance is in week 8 now instead of week 1. While Poland gets conference champion Howland at home in week 7, it must travel to Canfield to battle its arch nemesis in week 5. That clash with the Cardinals usually took place during the last week of the season in a sort of "winner take all" affair, but, according to coach Brungard, it really doesn't matter when that game is played.
"It's still our big rivalry game," Brungard insisted. "Our kids will be ready for it."
Brungard's kids must also be ready to carry on that recent tradition of always playing in the post season. The coach thinks that with the huge amount of twelfth-graders he has on his roster, his team playing in week 11 and beyond is a good bet.
"Our team is led by a strong senior class," Brungard said proudly. "Winning the first round of the playoffs is a goal our seniors have set."