Bulldogs eye return to playoffs
After reaching the state playoffs for the first time in a decade last year, Baldwin High School football coach Mike Berg knows the Bulldogs liked that perk and will look to do it again.
"I think it's made the kids realize that that's a goal we want to attain every year," said Berg, who enters his sixth year at the BHS helm. "It was a neat experience to play an extra week and is something we want to continue doing."
The Bulldogs return nine defensive and eight offensive starters from that 6-4 team. Still, there were some key losses to graduation and this year's team will be different.
"Although we have that many returning starters, every team has to find its own personality and we're in that phase now," he said. "We have to jell as a team, all 11 of us.
"That's what the first week of practice is about," said Berg, "finding the personality and going from there."
Whatever personality that turns out to be, there will a heavy dose of Micah Mason involved. The standout 6-foot, 211-pound senior tailback and linebacker has been an important part of BHS team history for a long time, gaining more than 1,500 yards on the ground last year and 3,300 yards for his career.
"It's not very often that you have a kid start four years for you," said Berg. "He's a very important part of our team. But football is not a one-man show. It's 11 guys coming together into one unit."
Mason will again be an important part of the BHS I-formation offense, but teams will find out quickly it's a mistake to key on him.
"Yes, most definitely that would be costly," he said. "We're going to spread the ball around. We've got some very good athletes on offense. We proved this summer we can throw the ball. We're going to balance out our play calling."
Berg's reference to this summer was the Bulldogs finishing first in the Gardner 7-on-7 league with an undefeated season. BHS had never done that before in the all-pass summer competition.
It doesn't take long to find another standout offensive performer, either. Andrew Hannon, a 6-0, 157-pound senior was an All-Frontier League performer as a wide receiver a year ago. Kyle Flory, a 5-9, 176-pound senior and state champion wrestler, will handle the fullback duties in front of Mason. B.T. Turk, a 5-9, 180-pound senior, has made the switch from wing back to tight end. All will be factors in the BHS offense this year, as well as others.
"We've got some up and coming kids who can fill in at positions like Austin Inzer who can return the ball as well as catch the ball," Berg said of the 6-1, 170-pound junior.
Every year the question for the BHS offense comes down to the line. This year is no exception. The offensive line took the biggest hit from graduation, but that's happened in the past and the Bulldogs have adjusted.
"Right now, that's where we're struggling a little bit, getting everyone off the line at the same time and doing what they're supposed to do," he said.
He does have two returning starters that make the offensive line situation better. Ricky Spotz, a 6-2, 220-pound senior, will be at one tackle. Kyle Ruona, a 6-1, 269-pounder made a big splash as a sophomore and is expected to be even better this year at guard. The other three line jobs are up for grabs between five players.
For a change, it may be the Baldwin High defense that's the better of the two units. The Bulldogs have settled into a 4-4 base defense after using it for the first time a year ago.
"Defensively, we return nine starters from last year's team and this is the first year in a long time we've been able to run the same scheme," said Berg. "We're way ahead of where we were last year because we don't have to learn a new scheme.
"We've really shown improvement from last year and we were the third best defense in the league last year," he said. "We're going to continue to strive to improve in that area."
Returning starters on defense are Derek Lang, a 5-10, 170-pound senior lineman; Caleb Thomas, a 5-11, 230-pound junior lineman; Spotz and Ruona along the line; Mason and Flory at linebacker; Luke Halford, a 6-0, 200-pound junior linebacker; and Hannon and Turk in the secondary.
Berg knows the Frontier League race will be close again. BHS finished third a year ago. He's looking at Louisburg as the team to beat, along with Paola, Eudora and Gardner.
"It's going to be a very competitive league. A lot of teams return the nucleus of their players. It should be an exciting race," he said. "It's going to be a season where we have got to improve every week in order for us to be where we want to be at the end of the season."
BHS opens the season Friday at Anderson County. First home game for the Bulldogs is Sept. 12 against Paola. BHS's district is again comprised of Santa Fe Trail, Topeka Hayden and Perry-Lecompton.