Baldwin Panthers face Crossroads in 7-on-7 action as prep football season quickly approaches

BALDWIN — The Baldwin and Crossroads Charter Academy football teams are coming into this season as two very different squads, but they came together on Thursday night to engage in a 7-on-7 as they try to get more work in before Aug. 11, the official start date for high school football across the state.

AROUND THE EDGE: Crossroads’ Nate Worrall (left) tries to get around Baldwin’s DeAndre McDonald (right) during a 7-on-7 football scrimmage at Baldwin High School on Thursday. Both teams are making transitions this season, with the Panthers looking to replace All-State quarterback Brandon Childress and the Cougars moving to eight-man football. (Pioneer photo/Daine Pavloski)

AROUND THE EDGE: Crossroads’ Nate Worrall (left) tries to get around Baldwin’s DeAndre McDonald (right) during a 7-on-7 football scrimmage at Baldwin High School on Thursday. Both teams are making transitions this season, with the Panthers looking to replace All-State quarterback Brandon Childress and the Cougars moving to eight-man football. (Pioneer photo/Daine Pavloski)

Baldwin comes into this campaign with a seasoned team comprised of nine juniors and nine seniors on a squad that Baldwin coach Doug Bolles said the community has been waiting to see play at the varsity level for years.

But one challenge the Panthers will face this season is replacing their talented All-State quarterback Brandon Childress, who currently has decided not to play football for his senior year amid receiving a slew of offers to play college basketball.

But Bolles, who believes the door is still open on Brandon returning, has been working with Brandon’s brother Braeden, a freshman, on taking over at quarterback.

“Braeden is doing really well…The door isn’t closed on Brandon playing, well the door is closed, but it isn’t locked, but still even if Brandon does come back Braeden will still get reps because we’ve got to look to the future,” Bolles said. “I have to prepare that Brandon won’t be here and that’s what I’ve done all summer and what the kids have done…We’re still going to be a good football team, but if Brandon is here we’ll be even better.”

Damon Nichols, a Baldwin captain at defensive back, was just trying to help get his team ready for the season and for a Week 1 matchup with Reed City.

“Summer is going good. A lot of guys have improved and we have more dedication to the game and we’re getting a lot better,” he said. “We’re trying to get back to the fundamentals and get back to football and get better and prepare for Week 1. Ever since we were little it’s just been a competition (between Baldwin and Reed City) and now we finally get this opportunity and we’re going to go out and win.”

Crossroads, on the other hand, has had some rocky seasons filled with forfeits, low numbers and roster issues which led to the decision to compete in eight-man football this year and coach Rob Rorie said numbers are looking solid to start out.

“I’m looking at about a minimum of 18 and a maximum of 23,” he said. “I think that’s where we’re going to be and after school starts, people might move into the area.”

Though eight-man football is new territory for the Cougars, the players are confident that they’ll be able to make the transition once the season starts.

“(The change to eight-man) is hard but as an upperclassman I have to set an example and really help some of the younger guys get it,” Chris Rand, a CCA defensive back, said. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work and it’s going to take a lot of focus and it’s going to take getting the guys who aren’t here and getting them ready.”

“(Eight-man) a little different. I know we ended up doing it a couple times last year, but with the number of people coming out and everything I think it’s honestly a little bit better,” Jacob Besemer, another Cougar upperclassman, said. “I believe we’re going to have a better season this year.”

With low numbers, 7-on-7s have been hard to come by for the Cougars, but the time on the field in Baldwin was just a small part of what they’ve been doing to prepare this summer.

“We’re showing some effort in our football team,” Crossroads lineman Chris Ward said. “We’re working really hard to do good this summer. We’re going to work hard to win some games. We’re going to try our best and do our best and have some fun and win some games this season.”

Though the programs are at different stages, both coaches were hoping to accomplish the same things on Thursday, mainly focusing on getting their reps in against some unfamiliar faces.

“(We want to) just find tune (our defense) a little more than where we’ve been this summer,” Bolles said. “It’s been a pretty good summer for 7-on-7s, we’ve went with Ludington and Scottville. We’re not going to see (Crossroads) this year, because they play eight-man, so just seeing someone else besides your same guys (is a benefit).”

“(We want to) just get some experience for some of these guys,” Rorie said. “This is the second 7-on-7 we’ve done in the last three years…The biggest thing is getting these guys experience and getting them in their positions and knowing what to do. Just letting them look at a quality football team and watch how they operate and try to emulate that. It’s great being able to get that kind of competition.”

Both squads will officially kick off their seasons on Aug. 11 before Baldwin takes on Reed City in Week 1 and Crossroads does battle with Peck, the defending state champions in eight-man football.

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