Football players reflect on challenging season

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Adam Degenhardt

The Baldwin football team sticks together regardless of a rough start to the season.

The Baldwin football team’s season started with a big win over Brashear back in August, but the Highlanders did not win again, wrapping up their season with a 1-9 record.

Players cited injuries, the small number of players on the team, and defensive struggles as causes of the tough season.

“Injuries made our team extra small,” junior Andrew Sharp said. “It was hard to have subs to help throughout the game.”

Senior Bobby Benton agreed.

“We already had a small roster to begin with, and losing starters just created gaps that we struggled to fill,” Benton said.

As for the cause of that small roster, senior Brady Hartman said too many students avoid playing football for Baldwin because of the team’s recent losing seasons.

“It’s because we’re not known for winning and it’s hard to attract kids to a losing program, and they know the outcome of the season before it even starts,” Hartman said. “We do not have the experience that other programs have around us at our core positions. But with a year or two of experience under their belt, they should look to have a strong start to next year.”

Benton agreed on the reason for the small roster.

We lack a lot of engagement in many areas, not just football. For how big our school is, it is disappointing to see the lack of numbers in extracurriculars that we have.”

— Bobby Benton

“I’ve heard from many people that if we won more games, then maybe they’d give it a shot,” he said.

This is a mentality among Baldwin students that needs to change, Benton believes. 

“As unfortunate as that is, nothing will change until we as students try to create change,” he said. “But the way I see it, if you only want to be there for the wins, then you are there for the wrong reason.”

Benton also sees a lack of participation throughout the school.

“We lack a lot of engagement in many areas, not just football. For how big our school is, it is disappointing to see the lack of numbers in extracurriculars that we have,” he said. “If more students took pride in being a student here, then it would spark the change that I think is necessary.” 

Junior John Kozar, meanwhile, thought the team struggled on defense this year.

“We had a lot of players who were completely new to football who had to step up,” he said. “Our defense struggled from players hardly knowing how the defense was run.”

Hartman said the defense was inconsistent.

“Our adjustments would work for a quarter, and then die out after that,” he said. “We gave up an average of six yards on first downs, which set up teams to take shots downfield and be the aggressor.”

Although the Highlanders struggled throughout the year, the team was still able to build chemistry they will need for next season.

“I think as a team we played better together and more for each other than in previous years,” Benton said.

The team also watched more film on their games, which can develop team skills and knowledge.

“Over the season our coaches had us watching more and more film,” Benton said. “I think it really helped us as players grow and expand our football knowledge.” 

The season did have some bright spots throughout, like their first game against Brashear. 

Baldwin took down Brashear in the first “Battle of 51.” The team played a great all-around game and had a lot of exciting moments.

“After that first passing touchdown we had, we felt great,” Kozar said. “We felt really good about how our offense would run throughout the year.”

The team also was able to keep a close game with a very good Bethel Park team, only being down by a touchdown heading into the fourth quarter. The game ended up slipping away, though.

Kozar believes that game could have made the season a completely different story.

“If we won that game, we would look back on the season a little differently,” he said. “We can’t let games like those slip away from us.”

He believes those bright spots give a sneak peek at what next season could look like.

“The games like Moon, Bethel Park, and TJ show what we can do,” he said. “We just need to find a way to string together some wins.”

The players who will be returning next year said they appreciate the role of this year’s seniors.

“The seniors were a massive impact and role model on the underclassmen,” Sharp said. “Their impact on this team will continue to be felt for years to come.”

For Benton, a senior, the end of the season was bittersweet. 

“It’s a very emotional experience. I didn’t start playing until high school, so knowing that I’m never going to put a Baldwin jersey on again really stings. I’m just really thankful that I got to be a part of it,” he said.

Hartman said his final year ended up feeling more like a stepping stone for the Baldwin team’s future.

“My last year of high school football just feels incomplete,” Hartman said. “I know for a fact that the players coming up are going to finish the foundation that we started to build this year.”

Benton has been approached by colleges about playing at the next level.

“Right now I’m focused on visiting colleges to find the best fit for me,” Benton said. “I’m going to hopefully commit somewhere in December or January.” 

Hartman is interested in Wittenberg, Waynesburg, and Saint Vincent. 

As for next year at Baldwin, returning players will include Sharp and Kozar along with fellow juniors Keith Mincin and Evan Gude. 

The team also has some younger guys who could be a big part of the team next season. Future stars could include sophomores Cenzo Pacella, Jaden Duttine, Dom Brown, and freshman Will Martin.

“There will be good things coming soon for Baldwin football,” Hartman said. “I believe in them.”