Poland lost to Mentor Lake Catholic in last year's Division III regional final.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
POLAND -- The Poland High football team is trying to rebuild its defense as the Bulldogs prepare to defend their Metro Athletic Conference championship this season.
Poland, which went 5-0 in the MAC and 11-2 overall with a 2-1 Division III playoff record, lost 22 seniors overall -- including 10 of 11 from its starting defensive unit.
Sixth-year coach Paul Hulea faces the challenge of finding replacements capable of equaling or exceeding what last year's defense did -- hold opponents to 104 points or an average of only eight points a game.
"The kids have been working hard on that side of the ball," Hulea said. "They're giving good effort every day. We just want them to play their best. So far they've been practicing real hard, and that's the key."
Hulea (51-18 over five years) will rebuild his defense around one of the top defensive backs in the area.
Harris is standout
Neil Harris (6-1, 180), a senior free safety and the lone defensive holdover, has 13 interceptions the past two seasons, including nine last year.
"He played well for us. He's done a nice job with our younger DBs and coverage people, getting them through some of the trying times," Hulea said.
Poland's defense has three holdovers -- senior defensive end George McNabb (6-4, 235), and senior linebackers Chris Dulovich (6-1, 215) and Dave Stanton (6-0, 200).
The Bulldogs return two of his offensive aces to anchor an offense that last year scored 266 points -- an average of almost 21 points.
Clayton is ace
They are senior quarterback Sean Clayton, considered one of the top quarterbacks in the area, and senior tailback Brandon Hardin (5-8, 170).
"Sean is back and it's always nice to have your QB back. It solidifies you on that side of the ball," Hulea said. "He's a legitimate 6-foot-5 kid. He moves fairly well for his size. The nice thing he brings is game experience, too. That's always a plus at that position. He does a real nice job leading our offense."
Clayton last year threw for 1,926 yards -- an average of more than 148 yards a game. And two of his top receivers -- Anthony Fuller and Dave Koval -- are back as targets.
Fuller (5-10, 175), a senior split end, had 14 catches last year while Koval (5-11, 170), a junior split end, had 12. McNabb also encores at tight end to bolster the receiving corps.
Anchors in line
The offensive line is anchored by four senior returnees -- center Marc Sacula (6-0, 235), guards Mike Cirinarich (5-10, 215) and Tony Sabelli (6-1, 200) and tackle Luke Skinner (6-3, 255). Hulea also is hoping for a return to the Div. II playoffs. Last year, Poland's post-season bid was stopped by Mentor Lake Catholic (21-10) in a regional semifinal, after the Bulldogs had knocked off West Geauga (17-10) and Hubbard (21-14) in overtime in district contests.
"The big thing in high school football is you always start over every year," Hulea said. "What we've been stressing with these guys are the little things."
Poland will open the season Friday at Springfield. The Bulldogs' first MAC game isn't until Sept. 20 at home to Niles.
"It's an old adage, there are no substitutes for game reps," Hulea said. "When you're as young as we are, the first game you really don't know what's going to happen. That's high school football. You're always going to graduate some good ones and question how good guys are going to be coming in."