Black River senior center Jake Maund can still feel the sting.
His Pirates had fallen to Girard, 56-14, in the OHSAA regional semifinals and it broke Maund’s heart.
He grew up with his teammates. He can remember playing in third grade with most of them, and they have always had the same dream — and losing to Girard, like they did — was not part of what they had hoped and worked for. Finishing 9-3 was fine, but there was a lot more they wanted.
“I think about it every day,” Maund said of the loss. “I can’t let go of it. We, as a team, can’t let go of it. We have this goal to go far in the state playoffs, and that loss showed us what we had to do. We’ve worked since that day, getting stronger, faster and smarter as a football team. And, now, I think the only team that can stop us is us.”
In 2011, the Pirates were able to move the ball at will for most of the season. Black River averaged 38.5 points per game and was able to score 48 points or more six times. Junior running back Andrew Vaughn rushed for 1,901 yards last year, while fullback Austin Phillips chipped in with over 1,300. Senior quarterback Dakota Kuntz is a three-year starter that threw for over 1,200 yards last season.
With everyone back, Black River coach Al Young is enthusiastic about his offensive backfield.
“I would say that’s the strength of the team,” Young said. “Andrew had a fantastic season and we expect big things from him. Austin is very talented and Dakota has done a great job of maturing over the years and he looks really good right now. He’s had two good scrimmages and should continue to get better.”
Maund expects big things from the backfield as well.
“I love blocking for those guys because they run so hard and are two of my best friends,” he said. “It makes me really want to do my job well. We work together and train together.”
Defensively, Black River is switching from a five-man to a four-man front this season. With quite a bit of depth returning on the defensive side, Maund doesn’t think the Pirates will skip a beat.
“I think our defense will be something everyone wants to watch,” he said. “We’ve worked hard to become more physical. We’re also a lot faster and a lot meaner.”
When a program is winning, more people want to be a part of it. Last year the Pirates had 47 players on their roster. This year the number will be in the 60’s as Black River is expected to compete for the Patriot Athletic Conference title.
“That’s going to create some depth,” Young said about the increased numbers. “We have a large junior and senior class with a good mixture of experience and talent. We had some success last year, so we’re pretty excited about this season.”
Maund just wants to get things started so he can wipe the memory of Girard from his mind. He thinks this season can be very special at Black River.
“I’ve known these guys all my life,” he said. “We’re all friends and have been together forever. We’ve dreamed of big things and approach things the same way. I know I can’t let down for one moment…for one play because that one block you make could mean the difference in a series, in a game or in a season.
“That’s how we approach our training…we focus on that one play. You can never let up because you don’t want to let your team down. That one play could mean everything.”