Family reunion

Big Rapids football begins fall practice, expects to be close-knit group

BIG RAPIDS — Win or lose, it became clear on the first day of practice that the Big Rapids football team is going to remain a “family.”

Players hollered to each other throughout Monday’s practice, stressing that every conditioning drill, practice rep and down they play together during the season will be done as one.

DRILLS: members of the Big Rapids football team participate in conditioning drills during the first day of fall practice Monday. (Pioneer photo/Martin Slagter)

That’s the attitude coach Mitch Cumings expects from his team, which returns a large senior class among approximately 40 players — the largest group he’s had in five years.

“Our program philosophy is ‘one team, one goal, one heartbeat,’” he said. “We always want to do everything that way. The family mantra has come from these guys, and in a lot of ways they are very close and they are like brothers.”

Coming off of a 2-7 mark in 2011 after three straight winning seasons, the Cardinals are looking to put the bad taste of a tough season behind them, senior offensive tackle Jake Daugherty said. That doesn’t mean the senior class has forgotten the feeling of falling short of their own expectations.

“All summer long, we have a clock getting us ready for the first game of the season,” he said. “We have that 2-7 written everywhere. We don’t want to be known as the team that never made it (to the playoffs). We want to be remembered for doing something great.

“That’s our whole thing … when we break out with ‘family,’ we really mean it,” he said. “We’re going to win or lose together. Last year we didn’t have that family aspect. This year we just said ‘forget the differences’ and let’s come together.”

Senior linebacker Kenny Eckles said the brotherhood will be the cornerstone of this year’s team.

“I have three brothers at home and with football I have a bunch of other brothers,” he said. “When we condition and somebody gets left behind, all the older guys come and pick them up. It’s almost like the (military) service — there’s no man left behind.”

Last season, Big Rapids broke in a relatively inexperienced group, which led to some struggles scoring points. The Cardinals averaged just 11.4 points per game.

Experience along the offensive line could help the Cardinals increase their production this season, said Cumings.

“We were so young last year,” he said. “We had some of the immaturity of a young team. This year we’ve got guys that went through those struggles so they can help the juniors go through the transition (to varsity) quicker.”

Big Rapids returns its leading rusher Nick Baldwin, while returning a number of players along the offensive line, including Daugherty and fellow senior Tim Klaus.

The play up front will dictate how successful the Cardinals can be, particularly after devoting their summer to lifting weights and attending camps, Klaus said.

“We’re all in the weight room, keeping things going,” he said. “We’re doing those things together, but we’re also hanging out with each other and doing those things. Since we all hit the weight room, we’re going to be strong and fresh throughout the entire game.”

Defensively, the Cardinals return a strong group of linebackers, including Eckles, Ty Lattimore and Kyle Parsley. Those linebackers will look to be the heart of the defense this season, Eckles said.

“We’re big and fast,” he said. “Basically it’s all about blocking and tackling. If our linebackers read our keys, we’ll be fine.”

Big Rapids opens its season at home against rival Reed City on Aug. 24 at Top Taggart Field.

Visit the photo gallery to see more photos from the first day of practice.

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