Replacing a player who rushed for 2,539 yards and 30 touchdowns and who passed for 1,299 yards and 13 touchdowns would not be easy for any football team.
But that’s what Paynesville is facing without Josh Bungum around anymore. Last year’s Times’ area player of the year is now suiting up for St. John’s University.
Senior Nate Meyer is the player who will probably get most of the carries in the backfield for the Bulldogs this season. He knows he can’t completely replace what Bungum was able to do.
“I hope to get the ball a lot,” said Meyer, who will also start at an outside linebacker spot. “I was the fullback with Josh last year when he was a running back and quarterback. It’s not going to be the same without him because he could make people look like a fool. I’m just going to have to work that much harder.
“Instead of going around them like he did, I’m going to go through them.”
Fourth-year Paynesville head coach Max Meagher said the Bulldogs are focused on replacing Bungum’s yardage and touchdowns, but not with one player.
“I don’t think you can do that,” Meagher said. “We’re going to have to do it as a team. There’s not going to be anybody who can replace Josh. We have a lot of young guys that we’re trying to get in place because we don’t have the experience we did last year. We’ll just have to take it slow.”
Senior Anthony Johnson and sophomore Matthew Quade will battle it out for the starting quarterback spot.
Outside of Meyer, the only other returning starter on offense for the Bulldogs is senior left tackle Tanner Harder. Junior Alex Whitcomb, Johnson and senior Evan Bayer are competing with Meyer for playing time in the backfield.
The majority of the expereince the Bulldogs return is on the defensive side. Five linebackers are coming back in the 3-5 defensive scheme. That group includes Meyer, Bayer, Johnson, Caleb Burris and Whitcomb. Senior Mitchell Peck and junior Troy Spates both saw time in the secondary.
“I’d like to think we’re going to rely a little more heavily on our defense this year, even though we graduated our entire defensive line,” Meagher said. “Last year it was the other way around. We’ll see. I think we’ll be improved and we’re excited about that.”
Johnson thinks the Bulldogs have to do a better job of creating turnovers.
“We have a lot of returning starters on defense. I think our speed at linebacker will be our biggest advantage. We’re going to go out there, try to be fast and hit people hard,” Johnson said. “It’s our job this year to create turnovers. We only had about five or six all of last year. I know we didn’t have an interception until the playoffs.”
Paynesville finished 8-4 last season, but won three playoff games to make it to the Class 2A state tournament before bowing out to Warroad. That run, along with Bungum, created a new buzz around the program. The Bulldogs have 46 players out for football in grades 9-12. It was the first time Paynesville had made it to state in football in 32 years.
“It meant a lot to the program last year to make it to state. It got a lot more numbers out and sparked some interest,” Bayer said. “It had been more than 30 years since Paynesville had made it that far. It felt good to be wearing a green jersey for everybody else who hadn’t made it that far before, but did everything they could to get there.”