It was a long time coming but Bald Eagle Area’s football team finally got over the .500 mark last fall, reaching the District 6-AA playoffs, where it fell to Ligonier Valley.
The Eagles last finished in the black numbers in 1994, their last season under the late Gawen Stoker. Since then they had flirted with winning seasons but were never able to do better than break even until last fall, when they closed at 6-5.
Now Coach Jack Tobias and his staff are reaping the benefits of that one extra win.
“It has had a huge impact,” he said. “I think getting over that hump and having a winning season was enormous for the program and the kids. It eliminated the doubts that they could do it.
“We’ve been on that cusp many times and just fell short. To get over that last year and get into the playoffs generated some excitement. We’re seeing that from kids who didn’t play last year when they were juniors and who came out this year.
“The kids are excited about the program. They’ve been working all summer long. They have high expectations going into the season. Our senior group has done a great job of being leaders since they were in 10th grade.”
The enthusiasm has resulted in a turnout of 45 for preseason camp, up roughly nine players from a year ago.
“Usually when we do our equipment check I’ll walk into the gym and see these cliques sitting around — eight guys here, 10 there, 14 somewhere else,” Tobias said. “This year I walked in and there like 30-some guys in a group laughing and joking around. That shows the difference in the mentality of the team. They like each other, care about each other and are excited to be here.”
Having your leading rusher, scorer, tackler and second-highest receiver returning also is cause for excitement and enthusiasm.
Dakota Bartley ran for 695 yards on 100 carries a year ago. Joining him among the returnees is Bryan Greene (16-214) who was also second in receiving with six catches for 164 yards. Bartley was the top scorer with 56 points and Greene was next with 24.
“We’ll be looking to build better continuity offensively, being able to score when we’re inside the red zone,” Tobias said. “There were a number of times last year where we were in close and fell short. Even the games that were lopsided, we had opportunities to score and we didn’t convert on those. That hurt us in a number of games. We have to be able to take advantage of those situations and make sure we get points out of them.
“And defensively, we’ve got to button up some things. Our kids have grown in our system over the past couple of years and there seems to be a better overall understanding of what we’re trying to do.”
Defensively, Jordan Kobularcik led BEA in tackles with 55, 42 of them solo from his linebacker spot. Austin Cowher had 48, 26 solo and Greene had 38, 34 solo, from the secondary.
Up front, BEA returns veterans Levi Cramer, Tanner Cramer and Hunter Hall.
“Everyone is excited about this year,” Tanner Cramer said. “We have kids coming out who haven’t played. Having more kids, more depth and more practice, it’s all good.”
It will need to be if the Eagles hope to be competitive again in the Mountain League where perennial powers Tyrone, Clearfield and Central await them along with traditional rivals Bellefonte, Philipsburg-Osceola and Penns Valley.
“It’s a brutal league, week in, week out,” Tobias said. “Our guys know that and they’ve done a better job of accepting it. You can’t take anyone lightly because that’s the night you’ll get knocked off. The difference between being a winning team and a losing team is taking advantage of the games you should win and fighting like heck to win a game that people maybe question you and you come out on top.”
BEA will open the season on the road against Bellefonte on Aug. 30.