Stars, young Bluejackets hope to strike the perfect notes during IHSAA scrimmage

BNL offensive lineman Junior Arellano and the Stars will collide with Mitchell in the annual IHSAA controlled scrimmage on Friday night.

By Justin Sokeland

BEDFORD – Taste in music differs with each generation, and the same is true for football teams as they prepare for the IHSAA controlled scrimmage, the final public preparation for the upcoming 2023 campaign.

While Bedford North Lawrences blares loud, modern sounds from the stadium loudspeakers during its practice sessions, what it wants to hear (and see) on Friday night is actually old-school classical. Follow the conductor, hit each note with precision, perfect timing. Mitchell, on the other hand, will let the young kids shred the guitars and go a little crazy. The Bluejackets want to rock.

Bang the drum, here they come. BNL will visit its county neighbor for the annual rivalry scrimmage, which means little in the grand overall picture but means everything for two programs with a lot to gain from this preseason clash. Both teams have one thing in common – there are questions remaining to answer.

For the Stars, it’s a last chance to audition for some remaining starting positions and finish the shuffling of the depth chart. For the Bluejackets, it’s the opportunity to prove readiness for a team that’s young and inexperienced.

BNL, coming off a 6-5 season that included a share of the Hoosier Hills Conference and a first-round sectional victory, wants to build on that momentum. The Stars have returning veterans at key positions, so they should be ready for the season debut.

BNL head coach Derrick Barker is seeking to fine-tune the execution during the scrimmage.

“The biggest thing for us is clean execution,” third-year coach Derrick Barker said. “This early on, you don’t have the full playbook at your disposal. But I want to see – especially from the varsity starting group – no mental mistakes, no pre-snap penalties, great effort. Do the little things right.

“We have to start building some depth, especially on the lines. We need that competition. There are still some starting spots, some competition to be won, but we’re looking to see who will step up and be the second-string guys. You will need them at some point.”

BNL’s known assets include starting quarterback Memphis Louden, a stable of quality running backs, experienced offensive linemen in Garrett Hayes and Kline Woodward, the defensive foundation of Brayden Baker and Maddox Ray, the outside athleticism of Ryker Hughes. What Barker wants to lock down are the remaining positions on the line, some emerging playmakers in the receiving corps, and the explosive ballhawks in the defensive secondary.

“There are quite a few spots,” he said. “We have a good group of returning starters, especially on offense. We have some versatility to move guys around. It has really started to click. We’ve had a good week and started to make some bigger jumps.”

BNL linebacker Brayden Baker leads the team through stretching drills prior to practice.

The Bluejackets, 1-9 last season, will introduce several underclassmen to the speed and physicality of varsity football. Senior quarterback Ethan Turner will direct the offense once again, but his four-player committee in the backfield will include two sophomores and two freshmen. One of those rookies – Jackson Kling, the coach’s youngest son – will anchor the middle of the defense. Other impact players will include sophomore Bryson Zeeks, freshman Kaden Mullis and senior Kale England.

“We’re going to be young,” Mitchell coach Kevin Kling said. “The scrimmage will be important. We will grow a lot from this. It’s a scrimmage, and it’s a rivalry, yes, because it’s in the county. But we’ll find out who’s a little intimidated, and who’s ready to rock and roll, who’s ready to play and who needs more grooming.”

Mitchell’s last live work came against North Daviess during an 11-on-11 summer scrimmage. Kling liked that result, now he wants to see another step in the progression.

“Just seeing our level of improvement, watching us compete,” he said. “For us it will be about taking the next steps, how much we’ve grown from this summer, finishing out our depth. I want to see them play hard and play together.”

Both programs are more worried about next week. BNL opens at Martinsville, Mitchell will journey to the red turf at Edgewood. While “winning” this glorified practice might be important to those keeping score in the rivalry, it’s really about the setting the tone and mood for the Week One.

“It’s always good to have live competition that’s not the guys you see in practice every day,” Barker said. “They will do things like we see in the regular season.”

Action at Mitchell will begin at 7 p.m.

BNL’s Kline Woodward will be a key contributor on both sides of the ball for the Stars.