Take one look at Blackhawk's Andrew Podbielski and you'll realize something very quickly -- he has one of the best beards you will ever see on a high school student.
"I've been growing it since eighth grade," Podbielski said, laughing. "Some people say that's how they recognize me on the field."
His football talent and size take care of that even more.
Podbielski -- he of the thick beard -- shaved his list of potential college destinations to one last month when he verbally committed to Bowling Green of the Mid-American Conference.
A 6-foot-5, 235-pound tight end, Podbielski considered a handful of Ivy League and Patriot League schools. The Darlington Township resident sports a 4.03 grade point average.
After receiving the Bowling Green offer June 19 while visiting the school, it didn't take Podbielski long to make a decision -- say, about two hours.
"I really liked the coaches. They're awesome," Podbielski said. "And it's hard to pass up playing in front of 25,000 people every game."
Bowling Green, which is located in Ohio about 25 miles south of Toledo, went 8-5 last season and finished second in the MAC East Division. The Falcons also were invited to play in a bowl game. They lost to San Jose State, 29-20, in the Military Bowl in Washington, D.C.
Other former WPIAL players playing at Bowling Green are Central Catholic's Logan Dietz, Washington's Bryan Thomas and Seton-LaSalle's J.J. Beggan.
Podbielski is a three-year starter. As a sophomore, he started at defensive end. Last season, he started at defensive end and tight end. Podbielski was recruited strictly as a tight end.
Playing in a pass-heavy Blackhawk offense directed by quarterback Chandler Kincade, Podbielski didn't post big numbers his junior season, finishing with 14 catches for 199 yards and two touchdowns.
The Cougars didn't need to throw to Podbielski much considering they had two of the leading receivers in the WPIAL. Alex Caratelli led the WPIAL with 70 catches for 1,220 yards and Cole Chiappialle hauled in 49 passes -- eighth-best in the WPIAL -- for 522 yards.
Podbielski, who has made a sizable impact with his blocking ability, expects to see his reception numbers rise this season after the graduations of Caratelli and Chiappialle.
"We'll be looking for the tight end more this year," Podbielski said. "I'm going to have a lot more catches."
It surely doesn't hurt that the quarterback throwing him the ball is Kincade, a MAC recruit himself who is rated the No. 16 pro-style quarterback in the country by Rivals.com and is headed to Akron. Kincade completed 154 of 245 passes for 2,220 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.
"It's nice having him [as a teammate]," Podbielski said. "Most high schools don't have a quarterback that good. It's nice having a Division I quarterback on your team. I'm used to how they throw and how to block for them."
Another Beaver County player picked a MAC school this month when Beaver Falls defensive lineman Brock Boxen also committed to Akron.
Podbielski is an all-around tight end. He has good hands and is an excellent blocker in both the running and passing games. Although he's not going to outrun many linebackers or defensive backs after the catch, he's proven to be a reliable target.
"I would say blocking and catching [are my strengths]," Podbielski said. "I'm not the fastest or most athletic guy, but I'm a pretty good blocker and I can secure a catch pretty well."
Podbielski is hoping Blackhawk can secure another trip to the postseason, this time making a much deeper run. The Cougars, who finished 3-7 and tied for fifth in the Class AAA Parkway Conference last season, lost to Mars in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.
"I want to get to Heinz Field [for the WPIAL Class AAA championship game]," Podbielski said. "That's always our goal."