Bulldogs are ready to growl
Now it's time to play. The off-season work is done, the football camps, two-a-day practices and all the preparation is over. The Baldwin High School Bulldogs take to the field Friday against Prairie View and the fruits of those labors will be revealed.
Third-year head coach Mike Berg has seen the Bulldogs improve steadily during his short tenure and hopes this year will find BHS back with a winning record. Strength at the skill positions, depth and experience work in the Bulldog's favor. Questions along the offensive line continue to be the biggest concern.
Friday's intra-squad scrimmage solidified those strengths and weaknesses. Changes will be made where necessary and Berg is ready to go.
"What we need to do is stay healthy, play hard every down and not make mistakes," said Berg. "I think experience and depth are our biggest strengths. I think we're going to do some exciting things."
That excitement should be at peak level for Friday's 7 p.m. kickoff against Prairie View. With the first-ever "Bulldog Bash" (see stories, pages B-2 and B-3) helping to bring a big crowd, it will be show time.
"It'll be a big night with the 'Bulldog Bash' and the game," said Berg. "We look for a big crowd. It should be a great atmosphere.
"We've got to come ready to play and show people what we're going to be like," he said.
Much of the pre-season hype has centered around BHS returning the passing duo of seniors Heath Knight and Ben Cosman. Frontier League coaches have been pointing towards that. But Berg quickly says there's much more to this team and he has the numbers to prove it.
"We have the most kids out in the league," he said of BHS's total of 83. "We're also going to be doing things differently this year. We've got to establish the running game and we intend to do it."
Another improvement that Berg says has to be made is on defense, where co-coordinators Tom Harman and Gerard Aligo will have some surprises.
"We'll find out pretty quick how much better we are defensively," said Berg. "My first year we gave up 300 yards a game on the ground and we got that down that down to 240 last year. We'd like to keep it under 200 yards this year. This is a running league and a lot of times we gave up those 80-yard runs. We've got to stop those."
Prairie View will provide a good test there. The Buffaloes run a split-back veer. They ran at will last year while handing BHS a costly loss one that ultimately meant the difference between a winning record and the 4-5 mark the Dawgs had to settle for.
"They like to run the veer inside and outside and they are pretty darn good," Berg said. "Their best back from last year is gone, but their quarterback returns. They lost a couple of linemen, too."
Berg knows all about that. He lost three key offensive linemen to graduation Joel Kesinger, Jake Pittenger and Jason Rose and is feeling it now. Luckily, he returns two quality linemen in seniors Eric Waters (who missed Friday's scrimmage because of an injury, but will be ready to go Friday) and Jake Barnes. After that, it's anyone's guess, although junior Chapin Deal has suddenly come to the forefront.
"Chapin Deal was our best lineman Friday, no doubt," said Berg. "I don't know who is going to start there after those three. We looked terrible on the line Friday. We need to find some consistency."
Another attribute the Bulldogs have is leadership. Six seniors were voted as captains by their teammates. They are Knight, Cosman, Waters, Barnes, Nathan Floersch and Andy Breedlove.
"They were voted on by the team and are kids that I think will do a good job leading the kids," he said. "They've been leading the team all the way during the off-season, all the way through two-a-days and everything else."
Now it's time to play.
(For more on the Bulldogs, see the football special edition included in this week's Signal.)