In his third year as Polo's head football coach, Andrew Hofer is finally going to see – for the first time – the NUIC teams the Marcos have traditionally been more familiar with.
After two seasons playing as the "smallest" team in the larger-enrollment NUIC Northwest, Polo is back amongst schools closer to their own size in the NUIC Upstate.
After a 4-14 record in the "bigger" half of the league, you'd think the Marcos would be relieved to be returning to their role as the second-largest school in the Upstate.
But relief wasn't in their vocabulary at practice late last week.
"In the smaller half or the larger half, it really doesn't matter," Hofer said. "We have nine good football teams on our schedule, somebody strong every week, and we still have to go out and play well to have a chance.
"But playing that caliber of competition can only benefit us in the long run. We saw what it takes to play at that level, and I think our guys are hungry for that."
The division shift is among many items on a checklist of positives in a program that is looking to return to its status as perennial playoff contenders.
The Marcos have experience in the form of many key contributors being young the past couple of years. They have talent and playmaking ability on both sides of the ball. Polo's line is physical and seasoned, and it had speed and strength at the skill positions.
And every varsity player is on the same page of the playbook and scheme as their coach.
"Things are running a lot smoother, because we're really comfortable with everything now," senior lineman Miguel Dominguez said. "We've played together for awhile, and we've played in Coach's system for awhile.
"We trust each other, we trust what we're doing, and we know what to expect … and what we're capable of."
What the Marcos are capable of, Dominguez and his teammates believe, is a return to the glory days of Polo football.
The Marcos went to the playoffs 12 times in the 19 seasons between 1991 and 2009, and have made a total of 18 appearances in the postseason since 1977.
Polo's players believe the experiences gleaned from the foray into the NUIC Northwest will put them back on that path.
"It made us tougher, and also gave us some confidence," senior running back/defensive end Jeff Kimpel said. "Last year, a lot of those bigger teams scored a lot of points on us, but our offense was also scoring on them. We know if we can stop the other teams from scoring, we'll have a good chance to win.
"We know we did well against the bigger schools, and hopefully that helps us play better now."
So many returning players means strong leadership, and Hofer is already seeing the benefits of that in practice. He calls his senior class "a good base," and is happy with how well the juniors and a few talented sophomores are meshing with them.
While things are running "quicker and smoother," Hofer knows it all comes down to executing and being on top of their game when the Marcos hit the field on Friday nights.
"Now, we have to put everything together," Hofer said. "We've had some stepping stones the last couple of seasons, and now it's time to take another step … and that's into the playoffs."
His players agree that the time is now, and believe the only way they'll deem this season as successful is if they make the field of 256 playoff teams.
When asked what it would mean to be the group to lead Polo back into that promised land of the postseason, both Kimpel and Dominguez paused in search of the right words.
"You dream about it growing up, and now we have the chance to live it," Kimpel said. "This is a big football town, and we've let the fans down the last couple years."
"It's time to fix that," Dominguez finished. "We want to start the tradition again."
Bigger not always better
• After spending 2 seasons in the "bigger" half of the NUIC (the Northwest Division), the Marcos return to more familiar surroundings amongst the smaller-enrollment schools in the Upstate Division for 2013. Polo went 4-14 the last 2 years after a combined 37-24 – including five playoff appearances – in the previous 6 seasons.