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Playoffs preview: Running back Tyler Polen feeling at home at Keystone

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It’s been a long journey for Keystone senior running back Tyler Polen. His high school football career began when he was a sophomore starter for Wellington, one of Keystone’s biggest rivals.

It continues tonight with an appearance in the Division IV playoffs.

In between he’s gained 1,808 yards rushing, including 1,049 this season, and scored 23 touchdowns.

The decision to transfer to Keystone was difficult, but it’s worked out.

“It was pretty difficult because Wellington and Keystone … you know,” Polen said, referring to the rivalry between the schools. “I talked to my good friend Bryce Gibbs and told him if I wanted to further my football career, the move for me for football and to better my education was to go to Keystone.

“At first he was a little upset, but all the guys ended up supporting me. Then I came here and was a little worried coming to Keystone as a Wellington kid, but everyone welcomed me with open arms. I’m just one of them now and it’s a great feeling.”

Last year, in his first season as a Wildcat, Polen was part of the first Keystone team to win a conference championship in 40 seasons. He was second on the team with 759 yards rushing, but the Wildcats failed to qualify for the postseason.

This year it was his turn to carry the load.

“He had a really good season last year, but with Tyler Gullett at quarterback most of the offense revolved around him,” Keystone coach Rob Clarico said. “Every year we look to see where our playmakers are and design our offense around who needs to get the ball.

“This year we decided it was going to revolve around C.J. (Conrad) and Tyler Polen. Our main play all year was the power-run play because we need a great tight end to block that and a good tailback to run that. Our scheme really fit Tyler and it was just his turn.”

That suited Polen just fine. In leading the Wildcats to an 8-2 record, Polen was able to accomplish two major goals — one a team goal and one individual.

Keystone made the playoffs for the first time in school history, which was the goal the senior class set for itself heading into the season. And Polen broke the 1,000-yard barrier, something he had been shooting for his entire high school career.

“Since I was a sophomore, playing on varsity, my goal has been to gain 1,000 yards,” Polen said. “I was finally able to do that with the great offensive line I have.”

As good as Polen is on offense, his play on the defensive side of the ball has been most impressive to Clarico.

Polen, an inside linebacker, leads the Wildcats with 114 tackles, 75 solo. He has eight tackles for a loss, an interception, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

“Tyler is very special on both sides of the ball,” Clarico said. “A lot of people see his rushing statistics and think of him as a running back, but defensively his instincts at linebacker are incredible. He’s always able to diagnose what the play is and arrive at the ball with a bad attitude.”

Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.

THE GAME

No. 7 Keystone 7-3 at No. 2 Bellevue 8-2

WHEN: Tonight, 7:30

WHERE: Bellevue Athletic Facility, First National Bank Field

Follow our live feed for updates from tonight's playoff game.

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