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Pirates relying on new cast for divisional title defense

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POLSON — The Pirates have a lot holes to fill from last year's Northwestern A championship team and will have to have some of their new starters step up if they want to make it to their eighth playoff in the past nine years.

"We're losing a ton, we lost a ton of kids, we have to replace 16 starters," said Polson Coach Scott Wilson, who is entering his ninth season.

With the departure of Brock Picard, Joe Andrews and Tim Rausch the Pirates lose three all-state linebackers. Jake Skelton and Sheldon Fisher will step in as the inside backs and Brock Bleazard will play outside back.

"...Defensively, those are tough kids to replace, because they were everywhere, but I really like how those kids have stepped up," Wilson said.

One thing that will make the three's starting jobs a little easier is the return of starting defensive linemen Josiah Clairmont and Noah Hoffman.

Riley Grogan will be the only returning starter on the offensive line, but having a returning center should help the rest of the line's transition to the starting position. 

"Having a center is always nice. Especially in our offense, we're in the shotgun a lot. He has the experience of playing, he knows the schemes of things. It's good to have him back, especially in the first few games," Wilson said.

The Pirates will be inexperienced on the line, but not young. With Grogan, Hoffman, Clark Rubel, Dale Big Sam and Andrew Murphy up front for the Pirates, they will start four seniors and a junior.

Vince DiGiallonardo is returning as quarterback and so is his favorite target Kyle Bagnell. Wilson said DiGiallonardo's athleticism is his greatest strength. 

"He can beat teams with his arm or with his speed and gives us another threat in the backfield," Wilson said.

Bagnell was Polson's leading receiver as a junior and received all-state and all-conference honors. Wilson said teams can't focus on just stopping Bagnell, because the Pirates have a four-receiver rotation and DiGiallonardo does a great job in spreading the ball around.

With the departure of Rausch and Andrews, the Pirates will also have to replace multi-year starters in the backfield. 

Skelton and Fisher have taken up that role on offense as well. Wilson said the two will give the Pirates a different dynamic. While Andrews and Rausch were power backs and liked to put the lick on defenders, Skelton and Fisher are fast and use their speed to find the seams.

Wilson said Polson wasn't the only team who lost some key players in the Northwestern A.

"I see it as completely balanced," Wilson said of the conference. "To me, there's not a frontrunner. We all have some good kids returning and we all lost some key parts to our teams. There's honestly isn't a team that couldn't be there in the end...It's wide open."

The Pirates will start the season in Frenchtown against the Broncs this Friday. Wilson said he likes playing a powerhouse, so early in the season.

"You know you're going to be in a dogfight...It really shows you where you're at and is a great wakeup call," he said.

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