BRADFORD, Pa. - Over the past two years, Steve Ackerman could be forgiven for feeling good about what to expect from his Bradford High School football team.
And as it turned out, he was right.
Both teams returned a wealth of experience from the previous year.
The Owls capped their 8-3 campaign in 2006 with a 37-30 double-overtime win over Clearfield in the District 9 Class A title game.
A year ago, Bradford to 11 straight wins, including a 17-0 victory over St. Marys Public, in the D-9 class AAA championship tilt.
While both season ended with first-round losses in the Pennsylvania state tournament, nobody could argue that a talent list of lettermen bolstered Ackerman's team.
Well, this year things could be a little different.
Make that a lot different.
First, there are only eight lettermen returning.
And second, Bradford's schedule, with the exception of long-time rival Olean High, is completely different.
This year, the Owls will play a regular season schedule which consists of nine schools in District 10.
How difficult will it be for Ackerman's young team to make the adjustment.
Perhaps, in some ways, his job will be tougher than the one his players face.
"IT ALL comes down to scouting," said Ackerman, who is 53-24 in seven years. "It's different in the fact that all of our play cards for defense we used against District 9 opponents are useless.
"We knew what kind of tendancies the District 9 coaches had. We knew what to expect. We're going to have learn about our new opponents before we can work on play cards for them."
How will that play out with a roster of 48 that includes 24 sophomores?
"A lot of sophomores are going to be playing for us which means we're going to be very inexperienced and we're going to have to learn on the run," he said. "But that's no different than the situation we faced three years ago
"It's just a matter of how quickly they pick things up and handle the tough situations. They're going to find that it's a great difference from JV and freshman ball, especially in the league we're going to be joining."
Yet Ackerman feels confident that this year's team will respond to the challenge.
"We have eight solid kids back that were letterman and we have some other kids that gained valuable experience last year," he said. "We still expect the same things from these kids.
"(Mike) Pascarella, (Casey) Graffius, (Cody) Nuzzo and (Jeff) Bradford have played with the guys that won back-to-back District 9 championships, so that experience and that winning attitude is there."
"We have decent size this year," he added. "As for strength, well, I don't believe it's where it should be, so we'll work on that.
"And I think we have some average to better-than-average speed. But we always have back or two that can scoot a little bit."
Ackerman feels the younger members of the varsity squad will grasp his ideas easily.
"We run the Wing-T throughout the entire program so the kids have already seen it and worked with it," said Ackerman of the Owls offensive. "But on the varsity, we do add a couple of twists that they'll need to understand and grasp."
"The experience we have at the varsity level is the biggest questions mark for this team. The quicker we learn to cope with that happens on the field, the quicker we'll become a good team."
With the move to a schedule dominated by District 10 schools, Ackerman noted, "One of our rallying cries here, because of the Wing-T and because of the types of defenses that we run, is that we always tell our kids to pay attention to the little details.
"And I think the coaching staff is going to have to pay attention to details this year as well. We'll have to play closer attention when we scout teams.
"And that's not a bad thing," he added. "It's good to get that type of shot in the arm every once in a while to keep you on top of your game."
Assisting Ackerman this year will be Jerry Pattison (defensive coordinator), Jim Yurkewicz (special teams), Steve Kloss (offensive line, defensive backs, JV head coach), Paul Piccioli (split ends, defensive line, assistant JV coach), Garrett Hatch (running backs, outside linebackers), Jeff Pascarella (both lines) and Jim Stiver (both lines).
THE RETURNING starters:
Jeff Bradford, senior, 6-0, 200, split end
Casey Graffius, senior, 5-11, 185, center/linebacker
Tyler Grandy, senior, 5-10, 160, quarterback
Cody Nuzzo, junior, 5-7, 165, split end/cornerback
Mike Pascarella, senior, 5-7, 170, running back/linebacker
Steven Reinhardt, senior, 6-3, 260, tackle both ways
Kyle Yurkewicz, junior, 5-9, 150, quarterback
Devon Swatt, senior, 6-0, 235, tackle both ways
THE PLAYERS, by position:
Quarterbacks: K. Yurkewicz, Cody Coats (so., 6-0, 186), Pat Pascarella (so., 5-10, 170), Zach Smith (jr., 5-11, 157)
Running Backs: Nuzzo, M. Pascarella, Ryan Breznik (jr., 6-0, 160), Shawn Mott (jr., 5-10, 157), Mark Havers (so., 5-6, 145)
Ends: Grandy, Bradford, Gage Brien (so., 5-7, 168), Jordan Harrington (so., 5-9, 122), Kai Hoopes (jr., 5-8, 141), Michael Morasco (jr., 6-2, 162), Matt Ostrander (so., 5-7, 143), Troy Reed (so., 6-0, 194), Evan Smith (so., 5-0, 182), Nate Burrow (jr., 6-1, 170)
Guards: Tyler Costello (jr., 5-6, 185), Brad Daugenbaugh (jr., 5-10, 228), Sean Mooney (so., 5-9, 186), Kyle Payne (so., 5-10, 181)
Tackles: Reinhardt, Swatt, Chris Arnett (sr., 6-0, 217), Connor Borowski (so., 5-10, 203), Ethan Peterson (sr., 5-4, 184), Kyle Sweet (jr., 5-7, 204), Jacob Cauvel (so., 5-10, 170)
Centers: Graffius, Devon Schoonover (sr., 5-11, 165), Codey Yurkewicz (so., 5-6, 166)
Ends: Costello, Morasco, Mooney, Reed, Schoonover,
Guards/Tackles: Reinhardt, Swatt, Arnett, Borowski, Daughenbaugh, Payne, Peterson, Sweet, Cauvel
Linebackers: Graffius, M. Pascarella, Borowski, Breznik, Coats, C. Yurkewicz, Havers,
Defensive Backs: K. Yurkewicz, Bradford, Nuzzo, Grandy, Brien, Harrington, Hoopes, Mott, Ostrander, P. Pascarella, Z. Smith, E. Smith,
29 - at Fairview, 7 p.m.
5 - Olean High, 7 p.m.
12 - at Erie Central, 7 p.m.
19 - Warren, 7 p.m.
26 - Meadville, 7 p.m.
3 - Erie East, 7 p.m.
10 - at Erie Strong Vincent, 7 p.m.
17 - Northeast, 7 p.m.
24 - at Erie Cathedral Prep, 7 p.m.
31 - at Corry, 7 p.m.