It’s been 10 years since Poland went 15-0 and claimed their school’s first and only state championship. If senior running back Luke Wollet has his way, the Bulldogs will go much farther in the postseason this year than the second round. But Wollet will have to have a big game tonight against Hubbard and each week of the season in order for the Bulldogs to have a chance to make it happen again. Wollet’s up for that challenge.
Last season the 9-3 Poland Bulldogs advanced to the second round of the D-III playoffs where they were soundly defeated by Licking Valley, 41-7, at Woody Hayes Quaker Stadium in New Philadelphia.
But it’s a new season now and the Bulldogs, led by senior running back Luke Wollet, open their campaign on Thursday night on the road at Hubbard.
“I’m really excited. This season is looking good as far as our potential,” said Wollet who rushed for 1,013 yards and scored nine TDs in his junior year. “We have a lot of good guys coming back on our team and a lot of guys ready to fill in. We’ve got some question marks but hopefully we can put those question marks to rest come week one.”
Despite the lopsided loss to the Panthers, who lost to Big Walnut in the D-III state finals in 2007 and in the state semifinals to Eastmoor last season, the Bulldogs just might have learned a thing or two that could help them to eventually advance deeper into the postseason this year.
“Yeah a lot of our guys have experience in the playoffs now,” Wollet said. “We played Licking Valley who we thought could have won the state last year, so we were playing against some of the best competition in the state. So we know what it takes to win and we’re working hard every day to become state champions and not just make the playoffs.”
And it all starts with a marquee match up in week one at Hubbard. Wollet and the Bulldogs versus Andre Givens and the Eagles.
“You don’t get many opportunities to play against a quality team like Hubbard with Andre and Kurtis (Drummond) and the team they got there,” Wollet said. “So it’s going to be a good test for us and it’s going to show us where we’re at right now and how our off-season went.”
While Givens has verbally committed to Pitt already and Kurtis Drummond is being pursued by a host of D-I programs as well, Wollet just might be one of the better football players in all of Ohio going into this season that nobody outside of the Youngstown area really knows about.
“I like to have a lot of fun with this sport but I always feel that I have a chip on my shoulder because I’m not the biggest guy or the fastest guy around,” he said. “So I just go out there and work hard and I just leave it all out on the field. I’m never going to have any energy after the game. It’s always 100 percent.”
And with that type of sustained effort, Wollet should do a lot of damage this season as the feature back for the Bulldogs.
“First and foremost it’s about the team and I definitely want to win a state championship. But I think I showed some teams some stuff last year so teams will be keying on me and I like that challenge every week, to go out there and show people what I have,” Wollet said. “I always feel I have a chip on my shoulder. I’m getting recruited this off-season but not necessarily as heavily as I wanted. So you know you hate to put that extra pressure on yourself, I really don’t, but it’s always there and I just want to show everyone what I got. But what’s mostly important is that we have a good season.”
A two-way talent for the Bulldogs, Wollet is going to get some rest when Poland’s out on defense.
“I’m going to have a little bit of a break on defense,” he said. “Last year I split the carries with Greg (Sabol) and Gannon (Hulea) and that took a load off. But this year I get to be the feature back so they’re going to give me a little bit of rest on defense if I need it. I’m a safety but I’m going to roll up and play some nine.”
Sturdily built at 6-1 and 190 pounds with a 4.58-second 40-yard dash (at Wisconsin’s camp), Wollet is probably going to have to play on the defensive side of the ball at the next level.
“Most teams see me as a safety and some talk to me about receiver. Youngstown State is the only team that sees me as a running back,” Wollet said. “I feel that I can play different positions. I just want to get on the field and win no matter what position it’s at.”
Wollet currently has offers from Kent State, Eastern Michigan and Virginia Military Institute.
“But I’ve been out to Wisconsin twice and I had a workout with Coach Rudolph at one of their camps and he likes me, but they have two safeties right now so he’s just trying to get me on as an athlete,” Wollet said. “He’s been real helpful. He’s talked to Indiana and Michigan State for me. So hopefully, when coaches are allowed to start calling, I’ll start hearing from some of those schools.”
But first Wollet is concerned about his senior season with the Bulldogs. A league championship and a playoff appearance past the second round are certainly realistic goals for Poland this year according to Wollet. Poland went 15-0 and won the D-III state title in 1999.
“They’re the most realistic (goals) in the three years that I’ve been in this program,” Wollet said. “Our quarterbacks are doing real well, our O-line is looking pretty good and we have experience in our receivers. Darius Patton (5-10, 170, Jr., WR/DB) moved in (from the Pittsburgh area). He’s a big-time player and he takes a little pressure off the run game. Once we start proving that we can pass it, it’s exciting because teams can’t just load the box up. They have to respect the pass now because Colin (Reardon) can throw a pretty good deep ball. So it’s going to be exciting to see how our offense works.”
A 6-0, 180-pound sophomore with a size 14 shoe, Colin Reardon will get the nod under center for the Bulldogs against the Eagles.
“Trey Lidle (6-2, 180, Sr., QB) is just as important to our team and he’s a great team player though too,” Wollet said. “He’ll be helping Colin out and he’ll be playing some defense for us. But Colin is very talented. He’s only a sophomore but he knows what he’s doing out there. He’s very talented.”
But the really good subplot of the game, at least from a fan’s perspective, will pit Wollet against Givens.
“I know Andre from track and we’ve talked before but it’s like a rivalry when you’re on that field,” said Wollet who is also a fierce competitor on both the school’s basketball and track teams. “I’m a competitor against everyone on Hubbard’s team and when you step on that field, it doesn’t matter who you’re playing, you always want to go out there and do the best you can. So I don’t necessarily want to outdo him but I want my team to get the win. That’s more important than anything. If I rush for 20 yards and he rushes for 200 and we win, then I’ll be just as happy.”
Wollet sounds like he’s expecting to be happy after the Hubbard game.
“It’s going to be a great game I’ll tell you that,” he said. “It’s going to be back-and forth with some big plays but I think our team can do it. I hate to do any predictions because I don’t want to eat my own words, but I think it’s going to be a great game and I think it’s going to come down to the fourth quarter and we’re going to see if our conditioning paid off.
“But I go out there expecting to win every game. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing a top a top rank team in the state, I expect to win every game and our team expects to win every game.”
Luke Wollet – RB/Safety – Sr.
Darius Patton – WR/DB – Jr.
Colin Reardon – QB – Soph.
Andre Givens and Kurtis Drummond
Andre Givens – RB – Sr.
Kurtis Drummond – WR/QB/Safety