Northern sophomore Mason Cornman goes through warmups before a preseason practice. The Polar Bears struggled last season and missed the district playoffs but closed the year with back-to-back wins. 'We were not very good when the season started, but we got much better as it went on,' coach Rick Mauck said. (For the Daily Record/Sunday News -- Noel Kline)
The normally steady Polar Bears struggled to gain traction from the very beginning, dropping their opening two games and then spending the remaining portion of the schedule playing catch-up.
The early problems, coupled with the ascension of division foes Shippensburg and Greencastle, kept Northern away from two of its traditional spots: the top of the Mid-Penn Colonial and the District 3 Class AAA playoff bracket.
Despite an overall performance that didn't meet the program's recent standards, the Polar Bears did make strides. And back-to-back wins to close the year ensured that Rick Mauck's club still hasn't had a losing season since 1998. That improvement, combined with a more experienced lineup and some excellent depth, is making for renewed optimism in Dillsburg.
"We were a very young team last year," Mauck said. "We were not very good when the season started, but we got much better as it went on. After the first two games we played, they were all pretty good, competitive games except for one. We are getting that sense of confidence back."
Filling the void: Northern has often spread the backfield wealth during Mauck's tenure. That happened to an extent last year before before Matt Richmond became the top threat. The Polar Bears might not necessarily replace his speed at the corners and in the return game, but they do have a ready crop of experienced backs to shoulder the load.
Kevin Lytle, Dominic Salomone, Isaiah Locke and Richard Settle all received carries last year, with Lytle in particular turning in some big games.
"We knew the strength of the defense would be those guys who played on their feet," Mauck said. "This gives us an opportunity to move them around, stunt them, give them chances to make plays. It's still going to be the aggressive style that we've always played."
New faces in the crowd: Northern has the backs, but the offensive success could hinge on the development at the other skill positions. Senior quarterback Alex Dale, who split duties with Anthony Salomone last season, is again competing, this time with junior Tristan Kalinay. Anthony Salomone will move to wideout, where he is part of a raw but athletic crop of receivers.
Mark your calendar: There are any number of key games on the Northern schedule, not the least of which is the season opener. The positive outlook will be immediately put to the test when the Polar Bears travel to Bermudian Springs; the Eagles controlled last year's contest on their way to a 24-7 win. Other swing games come against backyard rival Mechanicsburg and Gettysburg.
That said, the true bellwether comes in Week 8 when the Polar Bears welcome Greencastle. The Blue Devils, with 43 wins in the past five seasons and a division title last year, are making a play to become the top program in the Colonial. Odds are good that this one will determine who controls the division this season.
Who is one player on your team that you wouldn't want to face? Richard Settle. He's a tough kid, and he's only a sophomore.
What practice drill do you hate the most? Does conditioning count? Then gassers. I think everyone hates them.
Which NFL player would you compare to yourself? Brian Urlacher has always been my favorite NFL player.
What pregame music gets you pumped up to play? We have a pump-up CD we listed to as a team. There's a lot of rock and rap. Wiz Khalifa is big.
Do you have a nickname? No. There's a lot of interesting nicknames on our team, but I guess I avoided it.
What's the thing about playing football? Friday night. Just that feeling of coming out with all the people there and running through the banner.
Related· 2010 preview: Polar Bears have hurdles to overcome