The concepts that have kept the Hartley High School football team at the top of its game for more than half a decade have a grocery-store checklist feel to them.

The concepts that have kept the Hartley High School football team at the top of its game for more than half a decade have a grocery-store checklist feel to them.

First, find a tough but athletic running back such as senior Quri Hickman to carry the load for nearly half of your offensive plays.

Next, add in a big passing play from time to time from a quarterback like junior Jake Ruby who makes few mistakes, and let a quick running back like senior Richard Jones III carry the ball on jet sweeps and misdirection plays to keep defenses off-balance.

Then, be the most physical team on the field every game on both the offensive and defensive lines.

Finally, mix in a gadget play or onside kick and occasionally go for it on fourth-and-short from deep in your own territory to keep your opponent on edge.

The players' names have changed, but the formula that coach Brad Burchfield has used throughout his eight seasons hasn't.

Hartley has sometimes made it seem so simple, winning a Division IV state title in 2010, being a Division V state runner-up in 2013 and capturing another title Dec. 5 when it beat Steubenville 31-28 in the Division IV state championship game at Ohio State.

Of course, nothing is as easy as it appears, even for a team that has gone 73-12 over the last six seasons, including 12-3 in 2015.

Just about every year, the Hawks have had to overcome a major injury.

In 2013, one expected key player went down in the preseason and three others were lost to season-ending injuries.

During last year's run to a Division V state semifinal, the Hawks' two best defensive players, 2015 graduates Jack Zang and Tayron Washington, were injured in the regional final.

This fall, Hartley lost one of its most athletic players, junior defensive back and wide receiver Cam'Ron Culver, to a season-ending injury late in the regular season.

The Hawks also have faced one of the toughest schedules in the state among programs in Divisions IV and V the last six seasons.

Hartley endured regular-season defeats in both 2013 and '14 to Coldwater, which won its fourth consecutive state title by defeating Canton Central Catholic 35-18 in the Division V final Dec. 4.

This fall, the Hawks' three losses were to teams that went a combined 25-7. They also beat two teams that made the playoffs, including a Toledo Central Catholic squad that lost to Akron Hoban 33-20 for the Division III state title Dec. 3.

In addition, Hartley has played each of the other four CCL programs the last two seasons after not doing so since 1987. The Hawks went a combined 7-1 in those matchups.

So how has Hartley emerged as one of central Ohio's safest bets to make a playoff run?

It started with that magical finish in 2010 when Hartley beat Kettering Alter 29-28 on a two-point conversion run by Noah Key in a state semifinal and then blew out Chagrin Falls 34-13 in the final for the program's first championship since 1986.

Athletes like 2012 ThisWeek Super 25 captain and current University of Toledo linebacker Ja'Wuan Woodley and 2014 graduate and current Duke defensive back Alonzo Saxton later emerged to keep that success going.

Jalen Austin (Youngstown State), Marcellus Calhoun (Marist), Keith Key (Ohio University), Noah Key (Toledo), Jacob Matuska (Notre Dame) and Kalil Morris (Kent State) are others who signed with FBS or FCS programs in recent years.

This year's team currently doesn't have a Division I college football recruit, but Ruby is an Ohio State baseball commit, and there should be a place on some college program's roster for a player like the gritty Hickman, who is just 5-foot-10 but plays like he's much taller.

Another aspect of the team's long playoff runs that can't be overlooked is how the extra games year after year have helped to develop young players.

The game against Steubenville was the Hawks' 26th in the postseason over the last six years.

Hartley has won its first-round playoff game the last six seasons by an average of 36.2 points, which means that sophomores and juniors got to experience more of the postseason in many of those games.

That experience fuels teams for years to come.

For juniors like Jack Baughman, Thomas Casimir, Cody Kirkbride, Jaden Manley and Ruby, the intensity of playoff football this fall gives next year's team a head start.

Like a train that just went over a big hill, Hartley should continue to be tough to slow down for years to come.