There seems to be plenty of it within the Bedford football program these days.
Much of it began with the installment of Jeff Wood as head coach for the 2008 season, and the Kicking Mules remain on an upswing.
Only a heartbreaking overtime loss in their season finale kept the Mules out of the Michigan playoffs in 2008, and last year an 8-2 Bedford squad won the Southeastern Conference's Red Division championship en route to the school's first playoff appearance since 1990.
With last Friday's 33-6 victory at Ann Arbor Huron, the Mules moved to 3-0 (1-0 in SEC Red) this season. Friday night, when the Mules host Saline, they hope to match last year's team which posted Bedford's first 4-0 start since 1966.
“There's a lot of momentum toward building this program the way we want it to be,” Wood said. “The kids see that, and they expect on Friday nights that we're going to go out and compete in every game.
“And, win or lose, we're going to be very close and be able to beat people now. They have a confidence of that occurring every Friday night now.”
Another momentum boost was provided during the summer when the Bedford players and other students, through Mule Muscle Inc., took part in a fund-raising contest that netted the athletic program a grant from Pepsi for $250,000, which will go toward the construction of a new weight room facility. Ground- breaking for the building is scheduled for next month.
“It was a whole community effort,” Wood said, “because everybody voted for it. But our football players were really on board with the whole thing. They each went out and got 10 family members and friends, and had them vote for it too. That helped the get the kids excited, and got them more ready for football.”
At the heart of the Mules' offensive success this season and last have been seniors Jared Kujawa and Lee Hullibarger.
“One thing that Jared and Lee have done is they've assumed the leadership position from [graduated standouts] Mason Cole and T.J. Romijn,” Wood said. “They are complete leaders on both sides of the ball, because they both start both ways, and both of them are outstanding athletes.”
Lee Hullibarger, a senior, missed last week's game because of an injury, but rushed for 178 yards and scored five TDs in the first two games.
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Kujawa plays at safety on defense, Hullibarger at linebacker.
First and foremost, these two multisport athletes trigger Bedford's old-school “flex-bone” veer offense, which Wood had modeled after the scheme used by Navy at the collegiate level.
“I think everybody on our team loves the veer offense because it's working,” Kujawa said. “Plus it's fun. To be a good football team, every team needs an identity, and that's our identity — running the ball right at them.”
Kujawa, who also excels at baseball and hockey, is a second-year starter at quarterback and is in his third season starting at safety.
At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, he has the power to carry the ball (27 rushes, 252 yards, 4 touchdowns) and the arm to throw it (15-of-21 passing, 216 yards, 3 TDs).
“I would say the reads [quarterback analyzing the defense] are the most important thing,” Kujawa said, “because, when you're running any of our option plays, you have to decide who's getting the ball and when they're going to get it.”
Kujawa, who has played defense, wing, and center during his three years on the hockey team, calls baseball his best sport. A talented catcher and solid hitter who has started varsity since his sophomore year on teams that went 38-3 and 33-5, he committed to a baseball scholarship offer from Western Michigan last month.
“Jared has been a great athlete here in three sports all four years,” Wood said. “He's also very heady on the field. He calls a good game when he's behind the plate in baseball, and he calls a good game when he's behind the center at quarterback.
“It took him a while to get the reads down, but right now it's second nature. His footwork is perfect, and all of his mechanics are perfect. That makes him a better option quarterback. The other thing is, when he hits a seam, he takes it right now. It's 10 yards so fast. He plants and goes.”
Hullibarger, who also plays on the basketball team, rushed for over 500 yards after being inserted at fullback midway through the 2009 season. The agile, 6-1, 185-pounder has picked up where he left off last year. In two games Hullibarger had 29 carries for 178 yards and scored five TDs. He also caught five passes for 83 yards. He missed last Friday's game with an injury.
“We've gone to the same school since first grade, so we've known each other a long time,” Hullibarger said of his bond with Kujawa.
Aside from effective blocking on the offensive line, a key to Bedford's success in the veer is the coordinated timing and precision of Kujawa and Hullibarger, who typically exercise the first two options in the triple option offense.
“Jared and I do a good job with the [veer] because we're always out there working on it,” Hullibarger said. “We do the steps and reads and footwork, and we've been doing that since our sophomore year. It's all the time,every day at practice.”
“Lee has great vision at the fullback spot,” Wood said, “and that's something we didn't have the first year. When he hits the hole he can see the seam either way, and he's able to make the play bigger. He can turn a six-yard gain into 10 or 20.”
Also making solid contributions to Bedford's 286-yards-per-game rushing attack have been running backs Erik Jones, a senior who has carried 14 times for 135 yards and 3 TDs, and Tom Ferry, a junior who has rushed 23 times for 164 yards and two TDs.
The offensive line has gotten strong contributions from senior center Dan Ostas (6-2, 235) and junior right tackle Josh Thoma (5-10, 220), and the defensive front has been keyed by senior tackle Jake Kelch (5-11, 225).
The Mules' top tacklers have been the linebacking corps of seniors Aaron Mills (28 tackles) and Mark Staten (24), and junior Bryan Smith (26).
The Mules face a huge challenge next week at Ann Arbor Pioneer. Last season's 28-21 win over Pioneer became one of the biggest moments in the school's football history, and enabled Bedford to claim the SEC Red title.
Contact Steve Junga at:email@example.com 419-724-6461.
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