The Buckhorns finished 3rd in a field of 11 elite teams at Abington Heights

If there's one thing that Dr. Mark Watson hangs his hat on with regard to high school football, it's the physicality of his teams.

Wallenpaupack Area's veteran football coach has an unwavering commitment to rigorous strength training for his players ... from the junior high right up through varsity ranks.

As a result, Dr. Watson's players work every bit as hard in the weight room during the off-season as they do on the gridiron in the fall.

"I'm a firm believer that the things you do in the weight room really carry over to the field," he said.

"The stronger you get, the faster and the quicker you get. There are just so many positives to lifting that it's become a major part of what we do here."

Dr. Watson's beliefs seem to have paid big dividends for a program that had begun to wane a bit when he took over.

Over the course of the past six years, his regimen has produced All-State players and catapulted Paupack into both the Eastern Conference and District Two playoffs.

On the Road

Last Sunday, 11 Bucks players traveled to Clarks Summit to compete in a prestigious weightlifting competition.

This 26th annual event was hosted by Abington Heights. It attracted more than 100 participants from 10 different schools.

In the past decade, Paupack athletes have turned in one stellar all-round performance after another ... and this year was no exception.

When all the points were tallied, the Bucks had finished 3rd in the team standings, trailing only perennial powerhouses Jim Thorpe and Glen Mills.

"I'm incredibly proud of our kids," Dr. Watson said. "This is the only event we attend as a team every year, so for us to place third is a nice testament to what we're doing."

On the Dais

Branden Phillips led the way for Paupack.

A junior who currently doesn't participate in any varsity sport, Phillips earned an individual gold medal for the 148-pound weight classification.

Competitors are tested in two events: bench press and dead lift.

The bench involves bringing the bar down to chest level, pausing for a moment, then pressing it straight out until the arms are in a locked position.

Dead lift involves competitors picking the bar up off the ground and straightening backs and legs.

This year's edition of the event was divided into divisions ranging from 114 lbs to heavyweight.

Phillips weighed in at 145 and proceeded to dazzle the officials with his efforts. Branden maxed out at 225 in the bench and 435 in the dead lift. His overall score of 660 pounds resulted in a gold medal.

"I'm very happy for him," Dr. Watson said. "Branden is a great kid who comes to the weight room and works hard every single day. He's a pleasure to coach."

More Medals

While Phillips was the Bucks' lone gold medalist, three others battled their way to silver status.

Senior Mike Pajalich competed at 242 lbs. and finished second. He posted a 275 in the bench and 455 in the dead lift (730).

Jeremy Oettinger, another senior, competed at 220 and placed second. He carded a 280 in the bench and 515 in the dead lift (795).

Andrew Demchuk is just a sophomore, but also powered his way to a runner-up showing at 114. He pushed up 130 in the bench and recorded a 235 in the dead lift (365).

Pat Gilligan and Ricky Smith each earned bronze medals for Paupack.

Gilligan is a junior who wound up 3rd at 123. He posted a 155 in the bench and 260 in the dead lift fr a total of 415.

Smith is also a junior and placed 3rd at 181. He put up 275 in the bench and 400 in the dead lift (675).

Other medalists:

•Kyle Vasey (Jr) 4th at 220 with a total of 710.

•Brad Day (Jr) 4th at 198 with a total of 720.

•Billy Rotella (Jr) 4th at 242 with a total of 680.

•Jovon Marshall (Jr) 5th at 195 with a total of 700.

•Jake Haupt (Jr) DNP at 181 with a total of 615.