The 38 seniors on the Bedford football team have helped put the program on the map, priming the Mules for even more greatness on the gridiron.
For decades Bedford has been known for its outstanding volleyball and wrestling programs. The volleyball team captured state championships in 1998, 2001, and 2005, and have been state runners-up four times. The wrestling program boasts 11 team titles.
Emerging from the shadow is the football team, which is off to a 4-0 start this season and is aiming for a fifth straight playoff appearance.
Senior quarterback Brad Boss, who runs Bedford's dynamic veer option attack, said the 2010 team set a new standard by finishing 11-1 and reaching the regional semifinals.
“It's gone uphill from there,” he said. “They put Bedford football on the map, and we have continued a dynasty. We want to make it a bigger map.”
Coach Jeff Wood has spearheaded the upswing since taking over in 2008. This season, the Mules have outscored the opposition 196-52. Bedford climbed to No. 5 in the Division 2 state rankings.
“We don't put stock in the rankings because we focus on today and the task at hand,” Wood said. “But it is so great for football in our community to be recognized. For years Bedford was known for volleyball and wrestling. Now in the fall it's football.”
The Mules are 3-4 in the postseason since 2009. They won two playoff games in 2010 and one in 2011 but lost in the first round in 2009 and last season.
Senior fullback Alec Hullibarger has led the ground attack this season, rushing for a team-high 381 yards on 48 carries and eight touchdowns.
“I think it's changed the atmosphere at games,” Hullibarger said. “Bedford is starting to live and breathe football. The crowds have really grown since coach Wood got here.”
The Mules won Southeastern Conference Red Division titles in 2009 and 2010, the first league titles since Great Lakes League crown in 1998.
Boss has rushed for 349 yards on 35 carries and has scored eight touchdowns.
“The seniors want to go out with a bang,” Boss said. “We are sick of just making the playoffs. We want to do something. We want to have success in the playoffs.”
From 1967 to 2008 the Mules won just two league championships.
“Our seniors have high goals,” said Boss, who also is a standout shortstop and will play baseball at the University of Toledo. “We want to win the SEC and take it from there. We want to win as many games as possible.”
Boss, who has completed 11 of 18 passes for 204 yards and a TD, is primarily called upon to run the ball in the flexbone, triple-option attack. Boss has run the offense since the seventh grade when Wood decided to implement the scheme throughout the program's levels.
The formation uses a fullback in the backfield along with two slotbacks lined up behind each end of the offensive line. Boss has the choice to hand the ball off to Hullibarger, his fullback, keep it himself, or pitch to a slotback.
“It's a fun offense to run,” Boss said. “I've been running it for five years. So it's pretty much second nature. I have to make a few reads on every play. It means a lot to me that the offense trusts me to make the right reads, and they make the right blocks.”
If a defense keys on Boss, Hullibarger has had big games. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound fullback rushed for three TDs in a 44-0 win over Ann Arbor Huron.
Boss (6-2, 190) accounted for 256 total yards and four TDs in a 56-25 rout of St. Francis de Sales.
“It's hard to stop,” Hullibarger said. “There are so many different places to go. Four different guys can get the ball on one play. Our offensive line is good enough to give us time.”
Center Alex Johnson (5-10, 225) calls the plays up front. Left guard Adam Ortman (6-4, 300) and right tackle Dan Travis (6-5, 280) are two-year starters.
“When we make the correct blocks, we move the pile,” Wood said.
The run-oriented attack opens up the passing game, and Boss has two tall targets in Collin Carter (6-3, 185) and Trent Santiago (6-5, 280).
“It's not just running threat,” Carter said. “We can do it all.”
Carter has a team-high seven catches for 158 yards.
“The seniors have so much ambition,” he said. “We want to make history. Everyone's dreams is to go to Ford Field.”
Wood first became a head coach at age 29 at Genoa and had a 12-8 record in two years. He then served as an assistant coach at Summerfield, Erie Mason, Blissfield, and Bedford.
He was the defensive coordinator for former Mules coach Craig Trychel.
“When I wanted to be a head coach again, I wanted to run an offense that fit the community,” Wood said. “It's tough because the offense churns yards and makes you play assignment football.”
On the defensive side, Wood switched this year from a 4-3 scheme to a 4-2-5. He said the move was made to better prepare his team to face spread offenses.
“We had six teams on our schedule that ran the spread,” he said.
Wood said the ability of defensive ends Jeremy Harris (6-5, 230) and Austin Riedmaier (6-3, 205) to apply pressure up front has been crucial.
Harris leads the team with 36 tackles and has four sacks. Riedmaier has 4 1/2 sacks and 31 1/2 tackles.
“They've been dominate for us,” he said of his seniors.
Wood said the strong play senior safeties Connor Clements and Lucas Mayo has allowed the team to use zone blitzes. Clements has two interceptions.
Carter, who also starts at defensive back, said the team has avoided giving up big plays.
“Before we were really good at stopping running teams,” Carter said. “Now we're capable of shutting down both the pass and run.”
Hullibarger, who played linebacker last year, said the high quality of play from middle linebacker Jack Maison has allowed him to focus on offense.
“It makes me smile every time I watch our defense,” Hullibarger said. “They play as a team. They sprint to the ball and have a passion for hitting.”
Bedford looks to avenge two losses to Saline last season as it heads into an SEC showdown Friday. Saline won 16-14 in the playoffs.
“We don’t talk about playoffs until we are in,” Wood said. “The next opponent is Saline. We care about today.”
“It feels really good to finally get noticed for all the hard work we've put in,” Hullibarger said. “But we're not letting it get to our heads.”