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Numbers low, potential high for Ford City

| Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, 8:56 p.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Ford City's August Mantini runs with the ball Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, at training camp.
Louis B. Ruediger | Leader Times
Ford City coach John Bartolovic works with offense during practice Thursday Aug. 1, 2013.

Bounce-back years aren't often asked for at Ford City, but the Sabers have a history of doing them well.

After missing out on the postseason for just the third time since 2001, Ford City enters this season with a team that is short on depth but high on energy and motivation.

The previous times the Sabers missed the playoffs — in 2002 and '09 — the team came back to win a conference title the next season. But while the players aren't predicting a championship, veteran coach John Bartolovic sees some positive signs from his group.

“I would say that our numbers are our biggest problem, but we've got a lot of potential with the kids we have,” Bartolovic said. “You never know from year to year. Sometimes you get a group that can really pick it up on Friday night, and I hope this group is like that.”

Defense was the strength of last year's Ford City team, and Bartolovic said that might be the same this year.

Junior defensive end Zeke Walker, senior defensive tackle Adam Tatsak and junior linebacker Garrett Virostek give the Sabers a speedy defensive front, while senior August Mantini had a pair of interceptions last season and is the top returning starter in the secondary.

“Our defense is going to be pretty great this year. That's definitely our best group right now,” Virostek said. “We're a pretty fast team, but we're pretty strong, too. Even without the size of some teams, we can still get it done.”

Bartolovic added: “Without having pads on, it can be tough to tell. But we've got some good athletes out there, and I think we line up pretty well.”

On the other side of the ball, Virostek at fullback and Mantini at running back have some experience, and they will be relied upon to help lessen the burden on junior Mike Bartosiewicz, a first-year starter at quarterback.

The Sabers' top returning scorer is senior kicker Tyler Blaniar, who Bartolovic expects to build on a strong junior season kicking and punting.

As on defense, Walker and Tatsak are the most experienced linemen — Walker at tight end and Tatsak at center.

But with a number of positions to be filled by less-experienced players, the veterans are happy with the way the younger players have prepared.

“They're taking everything in real well in practice. They're learning what they need to do,” Tatsak said. “I don't know if they're all physically ready, but mentally they will be. The coaches have worked real hard trying to teach everything they'll need for this season.”

With numbers down in terms of participation, many of Ford City's veterans and inexperienced players will have to be two-way players. That also means conditioning and avoiding injuries could play a big part in the Sabers' season, which the players feel they've addressed this offseason.

“We want to be real physical, but we definitely don't have a lot of depth on the roster,” Mantini said.

“We have to be healthy, and we have to stay active when we're on the field.”

Virostek added: “A lot of people are filling in two positions because that's what we need to get the job done. Everyone has to be fit because the best players are going to play, even if that means playing both ways.”

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