Baldwin City The score already had taken root deep in the brains of the Baldwin High football players before they made it off the field at the end of a first-round, Class 4A playoff game last November: Bishop Miege 62, Baldwin 0.
After Monday’s practice, Bulldogs coach Mike Berg recounted the conversation: “Our kids said, ‘Coach, we’re going to make sure this doesn’t happen again.’ ‘OK, what are we going to do about it?’ ‘We’re going to start lifting Monday.’ They started lifting that Monday.”
Consequently, their goal of lifting a state-championship trophy has an air of credibility to it. The Bulldogs (8-1) aren’t the favorites to emerge from the East side of the 32-team bracket, not with Louisburg in the mix, but they have what it takes to compete. Their quest begins tonight at home against Blue Valley Southwest (3-6).
The Bulldogs have power. Power lifters. Power blockers. Power runners.
On a board at the school are the names of the top 10 athletes through the years in the power-clean (lifting from the ground to the chest). Six are current members of the football team.
Senior and third-year starter Landon Ausherman, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound fullback/middle linebacker, ranks at the top with a 340-pound power-clean. Jesse Austin, Josh Hoffman, Jesse McDaniels, Jake Mendez and Ryan Rogers join him on the list.
Tyler Schneider doesn’t go around bragging about it, but if you ask him the ultimate high school jock question — How much you bench? — he has an answer: 375 pounds.
Not all power lifters know how to make that strength work for them on the football field. They fall in love with what the weights do for their physiques and forget that attitude is just as important. Not a problem with this rugged bunch. Baldwin runs the wing-T to perfection by paving the way for ball carriers with physical blocks.
Asked what he likes about playing power football, McDaniels, a senior and third-year starter, said: “Getting to destroy people. Getting to shove it down their throats. Just the way it feels. It feels good when you’re punishing people.”
It didn’t feel so good a year ago when the Bulldogs were on the other end of the punishment eight times in 10 games. That’s why they went to work with such tunnel vision.
Berg tracks attendance for 100 summer events, awarding a point for each participating member. The events include weight workouts, running workouts, fundraisers, seven-on-seven leagues and football camps. Those who participate in at least 70 of the events receive an Iron Man T-shirt. All but five of the 45 players wear Iron Man T-shirts.
It all adds up to a relentless running game. Hoffman has rushed for 1,146 yards and 17 touchdowns, averaging 9.79 yards per carry. Rogers has averaged 7.02 yards per carry and rushed for nine touchdowns and 779 yards.
They know much of the credit belongs to the blockers, Austin, McDaniels, Schneider, Keenan Coffey, Dayton Valentine and Tyler Brenn. Load up on the run and receiver Asher Hannon is liable to get open in the end zone for a TD reception.
The Bulldogs have a long way to go for a state title, but they already have come a longer way from 62-0.