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Pads on, gloves off as Stars look to fill in the gaps

BNL senior Justice Woods will be among many who will play key offensive and defensive positions for the Stars in 2019.

By Justin Sokeland

BEDFORD – The pads are on and the gloves are off. Serious business is starting with Bedford North Lawrence football, with positions at stake and future success in the balance of those decisions.

Some spots have been settled during off-season workouts, drills and 7-on-7 scrimmages. Some key athletes will be in non-stop, no-rest mode, playing both sides of the line of scrimmage with equal ferocity and expected performance.

The rest is a Chinese puzzle box, requiring a series of moves to unlock the secret. And while the Stars face looming deadlines – the IHSAA scrimmage with Mitchell on Aug, 16, the 2019 season opener at Martinsville on Aug 23 – BNL coach Steve Weber thinks those discoveries might take longer.

“In reality, we have until Week 10 (and the start of the postseason),” Weber said. “We want to win games, but the reality is getting ourselves ready for that. And it might take that long.”

Dalton Nikirk prepares to launch a pass during Wednesday’s practice session.

BNL is in bounce-back mode – not from a wrecked season, for the Stars went 8-3 last year, one of the best records in program history. Sometimes the hangover from that success – particularly with the loss of talent and 18 seniors – is just as tough to shake off as the negativity from the reverse.

“It happens all the time, that’s what has me worried,” Weber said. “The off-season wasn’t great, there was that letdown where some thought we were really good and didn’t have to work that hard.”

BNL is back in serious mode, for Weber has been pleased with the first days of practice sessions. The Stars have donned full gear and will now be at full throttle, with several starting spots (and most of the back-up roles) still to be determined.

Some of the names are familiar, or soon will be. Dalton Nikirk (quarterback), Skyler Bates (running back), Cale Bunch (offensive tackle), Jacob Hobbs (linebacker), Justice Woods (free safety), Tabin Stillions (slot), James Underwood (secondary) and Reece Bailey (offensive line) are some of those already locked in and ready.

BNL middle linebacker Jacob Hobbs prepares for a defensive set.

In fact, if pressed a little, Weber would have starting units on both sides ready, although some decisions – one of the offensive line spots, the cornerbacks, the split ends, the defensive line – are still written in pencil, eraser at the ready. The hottest competition is for the reserve roles, in case of injury or fatigue. And if anyone wanted to make an immediate impression, special teams would be the place to earn playing time. Freshmen might even be in the mix, particularly as receivers, if they are physical enough to block.

“That doesn’t mean someone can’t step in,” Weber said. “But it’s now the next man up. No matter what you do, injuries happen, fatigue happens, things come up. A lot of guys will play both ways. It’s tough.”

Woods is among the many who will play both sides.

BNL coach Steve Weber is looking for leaders to emerge and for underclassmen to claim important reserve roles.

“Outside of our starting 11, we don’t have very many back-ups,” Woods said. “There would be a lot more if everyone knew what was going on. We have to get them reps, get them exposed to the offense. We have to work with what we have. We have a high standard to live up to, and we’re trying to keep that alive.”

The Stars will do a lot of rotating, especially among running backs and the defensive line, to keep people fresh. Rest time will likely be on offense, because the defense that allowed 31.8 points per game last season will be first priority for the freshest bodies.

So the work continues, with music blaring from the portable speakers on the bone-dry practice field. The final verses will be composed during the next week, with the public rehearsal against the Bluejackets to reveal the first part of the puzzle box.