BRIDGEPORT - Just two years removed from a 10-0 regular season and playing in the Division VI, Region 23 championship game, Bridgeport finds itself with just 23 players on the roster.
Head coach Rudy Vavrock is entering his 10th season and has posted a 48-47 career record.
''Our numbers are down,'' Vavrock said. "We've only got three seniors, so that is killing us. We started out with a couple more kids, but two-a-days whittled them down. As guys go, others have to step up and take over for them.
''All that means is that other people are going to get their opportunities. They need to step up and play their positions.
''We think we have some guys that will be OK, but the big thing with us is the 'unknown' factor. We, as coaches, really don't know what these kids are capable of doing. We've got some good talent in our sophomore class.''
The senior class is comprised of returning standouts Dallas Fields and Michael Jaworski, along with Colin Cooper.
Aug. 23: St. John5 p.m.
Aug. 31: Toronto7 p.m.
Sept. 8: at Con. Valley1:30 p.m.
Sept. 14: Frontier7 p.m.
Sept. 21: at Buckeye Trail7 p.m.
Sept. 29: at Madonna7 p.m.
Oct. 5: at River7 p.m.
Oct. 12: Beallsville7 p.m.
Oct. 19: Shadyside7 p.m.
Oct. 26: at Cameron7 p.m.
*-at Wheeling Island Stadium
Win 3, Lose 7
Fields (5-foot-8, 175 pounds) will shoulder most of the burden on offense from his tailback slot. The shifty and cat-quick Fields will be counted on heavily.
''Dallas ran for more than 650 yards last season, so he's been there,'' Vavrock said. ''We know he can run, but it is going to be up to the other guys to step up and take some of the pressure off of him. We know the opponents are going to gear up to stop him, so the other guys are going to play important roles.
''That's going to be the key for us right there.''
Jaworski (5-9, 215) is the lone returner on the offensive line.
Cooper (5-10, 190) also lettered last year. He is slated to see action at tight end and linebacker.
''We're going to ask a lot out of Colin this season,'' Vavrock said.
One position that Vavrock hasn't had to worry about in the past four years was quarterback, but that all changed when Cole Smelley graduated following an outstanding career. He ran and passed for more than 1,000 yards last fall.
Battling for the starting nod are sophomores Bailey McGrath (5-9, 175) and Q.J. Williams (6-0, 180).
''Losing a player of Cole's caliber always hurts, but we've got to move on and see who can be our leader,'' Vavrock said. ''Both of those guys need to be able to run the ball and pass out of play-action situations.
''So far, they both have had a good camp, but whomever wins the job they are going to have to be able to run the ball a lot.''
McGrath saw limited action a season ago. He carried the ball seven times for 18 yards and completed 1 of 6 passes. In addition, he caught five passes for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Williams, meanwhile, played mainly in the defensive secondary and on special teams after joining the squad prior to the first game. He had one reception for 32 yards.
Sophomore Patrick Britton (5-9, 155) will line up at fullback. The other running backs are classmates Bradley Pritchett (5-10, 155) and Jacob Ray (5-5, 135); and freshman Daniel Albus (5-9, 150).
Whomever doesn't get the start at quarterback will be a receiver, according to Vavrock. Joining them will be juniors Colt Charlton (5-10, 155) and Thomas Orth (5-10, 170); sophomore Anthony Paree (5-7, 120); and freshmen Carlos Kusic (5-11, 170), Hunter Gould (5-9, 140) and Bradey McDonnell (5-7, 120).
''We won't change much offensively,'' Vavrock said. ''We will still use a lot of motion and misdirection.''
The offensive line, while lacking experience, has a lot of size.
Joining Jaworski along the front wall will be junior tackles Bailey Sieber (6-1, 250) and Brandon Brown (6-0, 250). The other guard is slated to be freshman Tyus Harris (5-10, 210), while junior Brad Tomolonis (5-9, 170) and sophomore Jared Heslop (5-11, 240) are vying for the center spot.
Backups include sophomores Chance Watson (5-11, 170) and Matthew Weed (6-0, 230); and freshmen Dylan Bennett (5-9, 200) and George Harris (5-8, 280).
''Although we only have one returner back, we've got some very nice sized kids,'' Vavrock said. ''They are also a pretty smart bunch and spent a lot of time in the weight room during the winter.''
Defensively, many of the same names will be utilized in an effort to stop teams.
''We're going to run some four-man fronts and some three-man fronts,'' the coach said. ''Many of the guys on the offensive line will flip over and play on the defensive line.''
Brown and Jaworski will be the tackles, with Sieber, Heslop, Bennett, Tomolonis, Weed and George Harris also seeing time.
Fields will be one linebacker, while Pritchett, who was a starter at cornerback last season, has been moved to a linebacker. They will be joined by Cooper, Tyus Harris and Watson.
The secondary will consist of McGrath and Williams at the safeties, with Britton, Charlton, Kusic and Ray rotating at the corners. Other DBs are Gould, Albus, Paree, McDonnell and Orth.
Handling the kicking and punting duties will be either McGrath or Williams. McGrath kicked off and booted PATs last season.
''Although our numbers are down, we've got a lot of freshmen,'' Vavrock said. ''There are a few that we think can step in and play right now, but they will have to grow up quick.''
The Bulldogs schedule has a pair of new faces in St. John Central and Frontier. They replace Wheeling Central and Zanesville Bishop Rosecrans.
In fact, the Bulldogs and Irish will renew their rivalry tonight at 5 on the turf at Wheeling Island Stadium in the OVAC McDonalds Kickoff Classic.
''We haven't had St. John on the schedule for a couple of years now, but it's been a little longer for Frontier,'' Vavrock noted.
Other opponents include Toronto, Beallsville, Shadyside, Buckeye Trail, Weirton Madonna, River, Conotton Valley and Cameron.
''It's another tough schedule,'' Vavrock said. ''Weirton Madonna and Shadyside are always tough, while I think Conotton Valley is going to be pretty decent. Beallsville has a veteran quarterback returning and River has some good talent.''
The Bulldogs coaching staff also underwent some changes in the offseason. Returning to the fold are Ty Platt, Dustin Lipperman and Andrew Olson. New to the staff are Mario DiBias and Sylvester Beard. The junior high coaches are Jeff Herink and David Nelson.
Colin Cooper, Dallas Fields, Michael Jaworski.
Brandon Brown, Colt Charlton, Thomas Orth, Brad Tomolonis.
Patrick Britton, Jacob Heslop, Bailey McGrath, Anthony Paree, Bradley Prtichett, Jacob Ray, Chance Watson, Matthew Weed, Q.J. Williams.
Daniel Albus, Dylan Bennett, Hunder Gould, George Harris, Ty Harris, Carlos Kusic, Bradey McDonnell.