Poland will get first test tonight
When it's called into action, the defense of the Poland High football team has a rallying cry.
"Sudden change!" is yelled on the sideline when the team's offense loses possession of the ball and the defense is forced to take over.
"It rallies the whole team and gets everyone excited to play defense," said Mark Covell, Poland's defensive coordinator.
State recognition: Two years after winning the Division III state championship, Poland is back in the spotlight.
Ranked No. 3 in this week's first Associated Press state poll, the Bulldogs have won three consecutive games via shutout -- over Springfield (19-0), Jefferson (56-0) and Woodrow Wilson (17-0).
The only other area team to accomplish that so far in the 2001 season is Warren Harding, which stands behind traditional powers Cleveland St. Ignatius and Massillon Washington in the Div. I poll.
While Warren is getting much of the acclaim (and deservedly so), we thought we'd take a few moments to examine Poland, which intensifies that spotlight tonight with a home game against last year's Div. III state champion, Canton Central Catholic. The Crusaders moved to Div. IV for this season.
"Realistically," Poland coach Paul Hulea said, "this is our first true test."
Opportunity: This is true especially for the defense, which starts its attack up front with four seniors on the defensive line -- ends Jason Marchese and Brendan Moran and tackles Gaby Dibo and Breen McMahon.
Marchese is the flamboyant type who leads in the weight room and isn't afraid to yell a little. Dibo keeps everyone loose by cracking jokes.
"We try to get our best players on defense," Covell said. "That contributes to our success. The philosophy today is speed rather than size, so we do a lot of speed training in the off-season."
Seniors Rob Chance and Lou DaVanzo anchor the linebackers' corps, leading the team in tackles with per-game averages of 8.8 and 8.2, respectively, numbers that aren't particularly impressive.
"That means we have a lot of guys tackling," Hulea said.
DaVanzo is the silent leader, the one who fires up the team by the plays he makes.
"We thought that was going to be a good side of the ball for us going into the year," Hulea said of defensive expectations. "Our kids like to play defense. They take pride in it, and they don't want to be the guy who lets the team down."
The quarterback of the secondary is senior Tony DiNunzio, who calls the coverage based on the scouting report.
"Our defensive secondary has truly come on this year and improved," Covell said. "That's really one of the things we emphasized. They have more experience and are much more fundamentally sound."
Comparisons: After tonight's game, Poland will learn how it stacks against the state's best. Canton Central Catholic scored a school-record 508 points last season, and its offense is led by senior quarterback Vince Gliatta.
"Since I've been at Poland, he's one of the best -- if not the best -- to play on this field," Hulea said of the 6-foot, 1-inch Gliatta, who threw for 1,200 yards and ran for 970 more last season. "He's so multi-dimensional."
Covell said, "[Gliatta] reminds me of a young man from Chaney [Brad Smith]. If his receivers aren't open, he becomes real dangerous when he tucks the ball in and takes off running. We hope to be able to contain him and hang in there."
Hulea said it's important for his team to attack the Crusaders while still being responsible for its defensive assignments.
"If we tackle, we have a chance," Hulea said. "Are we good enough to do that? Who knows?"
Poland will tonight.
XBrian Richesson covers high school sports for The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.