POLAND — What’s that sound you hear from the Poland football camp?

Well, it could be the Knights knocking on the door. They’ve made a habit of winning three or four games each season and challenging whoever were the top teams in Class C South (formerly West) at the time.

This summer, more than likely, it’s the pounding of not-so-little-feet belonging to Poland’s strong and senior-dominated offensive line.

Their names, across the board: Zach Hatch at left tackle, Cody Kalinka at left guard, Alex Thibault at center, Connor Greenleaf at right guard, and Caleb Hodgkin at right tackle.

While they might remain anonymous in the box score, as linemen often do, Poland’s front five will be largely responsible for how far the Knights advance this fall.

“In the past we’ve had two or three guys with decent size,” Poland coach Ted Tibbetts said. “Now they’re all squatting 400 pounds and benching over 300. They’ve got the size, they’ve got the strength and they’ve got the experience, I think, for the first time in a long time.”


Hodgkin is the only junior in the group and the only non-starter in 2014.

He has huge shoes to fill, on the surface, standing in after the graduation of all-Campbell Conference standout and Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl delegate Tony Benedict. But Benedict’s calling card was defense.

“Caleb is a three-sport athlete,” Tibbetts said. “He’s stepped right in. I don’t think we’re going to have much of a drop-off there.”

Kalinka tips the scales in excess of 300 pounds, although he carries it well, and especially when the whistle blows. Much of his offseason effort was focused on footwork.

“They make we want to come to the weight room, and it’s the same way for them when it comes to me,” Kalinka said. “Besides just getting stronger, we’ve gotten quicker than we’ve usually been as a line.”

Poland, which has not finished above .500 in its 12 years as a varsity program, thought it had turned a corner early last season.


The Knights rolled over one of their neighboring rivals, Lake Region, in the season-opener. At Cape Elizabeth, Poland rallied from a four-touchdown deficit to tie, only to fall victim to a last-minute field goal.

A rout of Freeport put the Knights on the plus side once again and instilled a wealth of confidence headed into a rugged stretch against Leavitt, Spruce Mountain and Wells. The Knights lost all three by a combined score of 168-32.

Beating Gray-New Gloucester clinched an elusive playoff berth and reinforced Poland’s conviction that times are changing.

“I think we’ve got the pieces finally,” Greenleaf said.

“This offseason we were more determined than we’ve ever been,” Thibault added. “Past years we’ve just gone through the motions in the weight room and gone through the reps and stuff. This year we added more intensity. We’re ready to change what it means to be a Knight and be on this team.”

Poland runs a “flex” option offense inspired by the collegiate service academies. It uses misdirection and last-second pitches to take advantage of the backs’ quickness.


That won’t change, despite the Knights’ likely toughness in the trenches.

“You can’t reinvent the wheel every year. You’ve got to stick with what you do, but it does give us more things we can do,” Tibbetts said. “Before we used to have to read every single play. We chose to, because I think we were more successful reading people. Now I think we can move some people as well.”

Senior end John Fossett is a vicious hitter who only increases the line’s efficiency when Poland chooses to run between the tackles.

Sophomores Kenyon Ray and Aaron Paradis provide the burst of speed in Poland’s backfield. Senior Yvon Desmarais and junior Andrew Demers are first-year starters and options in the slot for senior quarterback Patrick Jacques.

“A couple of the guys are incredibly driven,” Tibbetts said. “We had a kid yesterday run so fast, couldn’t slow down, that he ran right into the soccer goal. It’s that determination that makes it fun. It’s fun hanging around those kids.”

It’s an infectious attitude, but perhaps they caught it from Poland’s 14 seniors.

“We’ve got the core group. I still would like to get to that level where we’ve got 30 guys in the weight room like Wells does, to try to compete with them,” Tibbetts said. “But that core group we have, a couple of them we have to say ‘stop doing that, you need to rest.’”

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