In many ways, the first time Jeff Paulson met Brian Ward was ground zero for everything that has happened to the McPherson football team this season.
When the top spot for the Bulldogs came open after the 2006 season, Paulson, now a senior, was coming off an all-KCAC season at running back and part of the hiring committee that interviewed coaches.
"I knew (Ward) was something special," Paulson said. "Just the way he spoke, the way he carried himself... he was very confident, very driven, and we didn't have that before."
Ward, now in his third season, has led a football emergence at McPherson, turning the Bulldogs into a national power this season. Twelfth-ranked McPherson (9-1), will face No. 8 MidAmerica Nazarene (9-1) on Saturday at Olathe in the first round of the NAIA playoffs.
It's the first playoff appearance in school history for the Bulldogs.
"Some coaches can come in and get things turned around in just one year," Ward said. "I'm not good enough to turn it around in one year. I needed to build a foundation."
Paulson was an all-KCAC pick at defensive back in 2007 and was a first-team selection at linebacker in 2008 and again this season.
"No one has accepted average this year," Paulson said. "We make sure we're getting the best out of one another. Everyone is held accountable."
The Bulldogs might be good for the foreseeable future, too, with 16 out of their 19 all-KCAC selections returning next season.
"We're excited about the opportunity that we have," said junior quarterback Shane Mascarenas, a second-team pick who has thrown for 3,009 yards and 32 touchdowns this season. "We've put ourselves in a position to be successful and we want to take advantage of that."