ADA – Ohio Northern University head coach Dean Paul said he felt like last year’s team was a playoff worthy team. However, a stumble in week eight dashed those dreams when the Polar Bears lost a tough 35-28 decision to Marietta
With 14 starters back from last year’s squad returning this year, Paul, who’s club finished 7-3 overall and 6-3 in the Ohio Athletic Conferee, is hoping some of that momentum from last season, along with a lot of hard work and a little luck carries over into this year and he is optimistic his club can vie for an Ohio Athletic Conference title and a berth in the postseason.
“When I look at last year I look at last year the first thing I think of last year I think how close we were to being a playoff team,” said Paul, who enters his 15th year as the ONU head coach. “We lost a game in week eight that we felt we let it slip away and if we win that game we are not tied for second and we are in second and 8-2 and a strong chance we are going to make it.”
Paul said he hopes the players returning learned from last year and come back hungry to compete for the OAC title and garner a spot in the postseason.
However, Paul adds that last year’s 7-3 year could have easily been a 5-5 year and said they were one play away from 8-2 but said they were two and three plays from being .500.
“Details matter and details are so important in this conference and so that is what we have worked on in the off season,” Paul said. “We have a decent number of guys coming back but there are so many unknowns going into the first games and guys are taking on greater roles even if they are experienced. You are looking for the guys who are going from the JV to varsity player and playing a higher level Those are fun stories to watch but they are also a little stressful.”
Going into the Polar Bears’ season opener against a tough Adrian team, the Polar Bears return 38 letter winners.
Paul said he expects to learn a lot about his team in week one due to Adrian’s talented receiving corps and host of talented defensive players.
“Even they don’t have a ton of starters back the have six all-conference starters coming back and two of them are difference makers so they get your attention,” Paul said. “We will be watching our players to see how they make adjustments.”
In his 15 years at the helm, Paul said the Polar Bear program prides itself on a consistent formula of preparation every week and it isn’t tied if they played poorly or won.
“We have tried to stay on that path and stayed focus on that,” Paul said.
With the return of an abundance of experience ONU came into the preseason ready to roll or in Polar Bear terms ready to roar.
One of the reasons for one of the unknowns is the loss of All-American running back Christiaan Williams who will miss the 2018 season after suffering an injury during the off season.
However, this opens the door for running back A.J. Marks and Holton Watson to produce.
Behind the center is junior Anthony McFadden who won the starting quarterback job in week eight. In his two games, the Polar Bears scored 91 points.
“We are confident he is progressing in practice the way he needs to and now he has to do it in the game,” Paul said. “He played well in the two games he played in last year.”
Headlining the receiving corps is first-team, All-OAC honoree Chad Rex. In 2017, Rex caught 51 passes for 921 yards and 14 touchdowns. Seniors Braden Hadley and Caleb Saalfeld were also major contributors last season and Upper Scioto Valley product sophomore Chase Rose is also being looked as a possible major contributor.
On the offensive line, a pair of Wapakoneta products, senior Kyle Gonterman, a second team, All-OAC selection at guard and Will Rankin, the center, are the mainstays on the line. Gonterman will miss the first game due to an injury.
Senior Joe Rinicella and Eli Ulsh have seen time on the line and they are expected to join Ethan Hale who is also a returning letter winner.
Paul added that one of the advantages of having a veteran offensive line is that it takes some of the other pressure off the skilled players, especially at running back and it should assist them as they learn on the job so to speak.
Like the offense, the defense has solid starters returning at each positions.
Up front, second team, All-OAC defensive end Justin Crosswell anchors the defensive line with senior Kyle Rowe and sophomore Carlos Bunton are back after the pair started all 10 games last season.
Junior second team, All-OAC selection Mark Niles is the lone linebacker to return from last year. Niles was second on the team in tackles with 90 and led the club with nine tackles for loss. He is expected to move to middle linebacker this year.
The Polar Bears return both their safeties in Greg Dennis and Andrew Valenti, however, they lost both their starting cornerbacks and will be looking to fill that void.
“Defensively we are little more experienced up front with three returning starters, only one at linebacker and two at safety so it is kind of nice we have some experience at each level,” Paul said. “You always want more but the concern is that we lost both of our corners and two of our linebackers so that is four guys on the back end.”
On special teams, second-team all OAC performer Sean Devany is back as punter and Elida graduate Chase Watson will be handling the place kicking chores. Watson was 3 of 4 in field goals and converted all 30 extra points.
With a weath of talent and experience, the Polar Bears are poised for another winning season.
“We are always going to have high expectations so we expect to win and if you don’t have that resolve on a Saturday than you are obviously going to be very disappointed,” Paul said. “Our goals are always going to be the same. Compete for a conference championship. Compete with the top teams in the league if we are doing that we are going to be in the top 25 and if we do that we are going to be in the national playoffs.”