Practice opens for high schools

High school football practice kicks off today and the defending 2A state champion Baldwyn Bearcats are raring to go.

“The kids are excited,” said first-year head coach Michael Gray. “I’ve noticed they’ve been hanging around the fieldhouse a lot the last few days.

“They got a big taste of how much fun it was last year.”

Gray, 38, an assistant at Baldwyn for 15 seasons, replaced Jimmy Dillinger, who retired following the Bearcats’ 14-1 state title season.

“I guess I’m excited,” Gray said. “I know we’ve worked hard to get ready.”

Gray welcomes back a handful of players from last season’s squad that defeated Forest, 35-26, in the state championship game.

One of those is senior quarterback Tanner Gaines, who stepped under center for the final seven games after starter Cody King was injured.

“I think Tanner will be ready to roll,” Gray said. “He’ll be 100 percent better. He’s a year older being in the system.”

Offensively, Baldwyn has to replace a center and two guards, four receivers and two running backs. On defense, all front four players, a middle linebacker, two cornerbacks and a safety are gone.

“We’ve got a good group of young kids, skill-wise,” Gray said. “I think when we get settled in and start practicing, we’ll be OK.”

Baldwyn opens its season Aug. 28 with a road trip to rival Booneville. The Blue Devils are coached by Jim Drewry, who is beginning his 49th season on the sidelines.

“I have a lot of respect for Coach Drewry,” Gray said. “I’ve coached against him, but I never played against him as a player.

“It’s a huge rivalry, but not the blood and guts like it used to be.”

Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal