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C-K football has high expectations

Mirror file photo Claysburg-Kimmel’s Preston Bush returns from a 2019 team that went 8-4 a season ago.

H.S. football

The Mirror will preview a high school football team each day until Aug. 22. For a complete rundown of all of the teams in the region, pick up a copy of “Blitz” at area newstands.

Today: Claysburg-Kimmel

Tuesday: Williamsburg

A decade ago, just qualifying for the District 6 playoffs was an extremely lofty goal at Claysburg-Kimmel.

But as Matt Bilchak enters his third year as the Bulldogs’ head coach, that’s changed.

Claysburg is coming off an 8-4 season and its third playoff victory in three years.

“We’re starting to make progress, and it’s being noticed by people outside of our program,” Bilchak said. “To me, that’s a big step in the progress. We notice the changes that are happening right now, but to have people that aren’t associated with the program take notice and pay us compliments is a landmark of where we’re at with our program.”

Instead of merely hoping to be competitive, people around the program actually consider a loss to Saltsburg with a chance to get into the District 6 semifinals last year as an opportunity that slipped through the Bulldogs’ grasp.

“I feel like as a whole, as a team and as a community, we have grown so much,” Claysburg-Kimmel senior Preston Bush said. “I really feel like everybody expects wins out of us now. We always expect to have a good season. We have really turned that around the past few years.”

Bush is one of several players that stepped up into bigger roles last year as many of Claysburg’s star seniors went down with injuries as the season progressed.

“A lot of guys stepped up, and that’s really what we needed,” Bush said. “A lot of those guys who stepped up are back this season. Hopefully the experience they got last year will help them this year.”

Bilchak said the fact the team still had success after the injuries is another sign the program is on the rise.

“When you look at our team last year, there were players who would have been seeing playing time on almost any team but our team because of the way our senior class was loaded,” Bilchak said. “But as injuries started coming up, we called on different guys and put people in different positions, and we saw kids come in and play really well.

“That’s one of the biggest changes in the program is that we can have guys get hurt, and we don’t have to go into panic mode. The next guy steps in and keeps everything rolling.”

Despite returning quality skill players like three-year starting quarterback Corey Chamberlain, Bush, Ryan Biesinger and Joey Noah among others, it won’t be easy for Claysburg-Kimmel as this year’s schedule includes teams like defending District 5 champion Tussey Mountain, Northern Bedford, Juniata Valley and defending Inter-County Conference champion Bellwood-Antis.

“We’re excited to play a tough schedule and have Bellwood back on it,” Bush said. “I think we’re going to do decent. I want to finish at least .500 and get another playoff win.”

Bilchak said his team is ready for the challenge.

“You always want to play tougher competition,” Bilchak said. “With where we’re at as a program, it’s great to be able to see where we’re at. With Bellwood back on our schedule and us playing consistently well over the past couple years, they are in the spot we want to get to. If we want to be the team to beat in the ICC, we have to go through the teams like Bellwood and play them tough year in and year out.”

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