Hubbard High knocked off previously undefeated Niles last week, a big win for the Eagles and coach Brian Hoffman, now in his fifth year at the Hubbard helm.
This season is a bit different for the Eagles than recent seasons. For one thing, Hubbard is playing in the All-American Conference American Division after the league’s realignment. The Eagles captured the AAC White Division last year but play a much more formidable conference schedule in 2012.
Another difference is the fact the Eagles are coming off a non-playoff season after reaching the postseason the five previous years. Hubbard is 5-2 with a trip to Poland looming this week.
Q. Talk about the approach and attitude the kids had going into last week’s game against undefeated Niles.
A. We prepared the players mentally for the game stressing the fact that we are a very capable football team and when they start to believe in themselves and play to their full potential they can step on the field and play with anyone. The kids prepared well, they were really focused, and they came out with the attitude that it takes to win. We knew we had a test in front of us, Niles is a quality team, and we knew that if we didn’t play our best football we were going to have difficulty. The kids took that challenge, they heard the message we presented to them early in the week, followed through and played our best game of the year.
By far it was our best game in terms of offense, defense and special teams, our best all-around game. We’ve seen a lot of improvement in our defense, we have a lot of new starters from a year ago. I think it started paying dividends that the guys are getting a lot of reps and preparation time, they are starting to gain experience.
Q. With the realignment of the All-American Conference you are in a situation of playing a quality opponent every week. Did you talk about it with the team at the beginning of the season?
A. Absolutely, we discussed the movement to the American Division and we accepted it as a challenge for our program. We told them flat out that they were going to be judged on their capability of winning league games, that our season will come down to what we do in the conference. Each week is a challenge. These are quality programs with great coaches and a wealth of playoff experience. It is a test to see how we compete, especially with the bigger schools.
Q. Your kids are used to making the playoffs and did not last year in a 7-3 season. How did you approach that in preseason?
A. Not making the postseason last year was a huge disappointment for our players who return, for the seniors a year ago and for the coaches as well. We are focused this season on giving ourselves a chance to get back. You can’t take the postseason for granted, you have to play great football to get there and, in all honesty, you have to be injury-free or, if you have injuries, you have to have other guys step up to fill roles. We’re not counting anything right now though, all we did last week was win one game. It was a big game, but it is just one game. Our focus is on Friday night.
Q. You had a tough two weeks recently, losing a close road game at Howland and then losing at home to Struthers. How did the kids react to that stretch?
A. It was a rough stretch for us. We didn’t feel like we played our best football against Struthers. Not to take anything away from them, but we felt we didn’t come out with a great performance. Our coaches and players did a little soul searching. When you have adversity that’s when you see if you are a team that will come together and focus on what’s ahead or separate and fall apart. The last couple of weeks the players have stayed tight and the attitude has been upbeat. We’ve seen an improvement in the attitude and play.
Q. What challenges are presented by Poland this week?
A. Number one, Poland is a well-coached, sound team that doesn’t make mistakes and runs the football very well. They have a solid offensive line and a good stable of backs. Their offense is built on power running and they will continue to pound the football at you until you prove you can stop it. Their defense is solid and if you make mistakes they will capitalize.
We have to make sure we execute on offense and sustain possessions. We have to have ball security and not make mistakes and penalties. Those can cost drives and eventually games. The last couple of years our games with Poland have been close and have come down to a few key possessions. They made plays and we have not and they have won the last couple of years.
Q. Can you name a strong point of your team?
A. I would have to say it is a team bond that we have, we’ve seen the team kind of come together, particularly the last few weeks. The attitude as a unit is pretty strong. I told them last week that they are one of the most enjoyable groups to be around as a coach. They listen and respond and they are hard-working. Other coaches may say similar things about how hard their teams work, but this group really has worked hard. They put in their time, and even extra time, and don’t complain.
Q. How has the progress of the team been from the start of the season?
A. Overall our progression has been steady. We have a young group overall, we’ve got a lot of sophomores and juniors playing significant roles. With youth you’re going to have mistakes, especially early, but as coaches we’ve worked at staying the course and working with the guys. The mistakes have been fewer and fewer the last couple of weeks and they are starting to believe more and more. They are starting to play with confidence and to play fast. If you play fast and they are doing what you ask them to do then you have a chance.
— By Doug Chapin, Vindicator sports writer