By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Progress can be measured, defined in terms of small increments like yards and first downs, or bigger scales like touchdowns and wins. If success is steady progress toward a goal, Bedford North Lawrence’s 2023 football campaign meets that criteria.
Anchored by a senior class that matured into tough competitors and leaders, the Stars set higher standards. For the first time in program history, they increased their number of victories for three consecutive seasons, finishing this campaign with a solid 7-4 mark. They won postseason games in back-to-back years for only the second time.
That’s a tribute to hard work, to the vision of head coach Derrick Barker and his staff, to the determination of a senior-heavy team. Every Friday night, even on the road against ranked opponents, BNL went forward, not backward. The season ended with a sectional semifinal loss to 4A No.2 Evansville Reitz, which showed future Stars what the next steps need to be. For Barker, the final record was vindication, worthy of celebration, for the path taken during that journey.
“That’s the biggest thing this year, we made a lot of progress,” Barker said. “Even before we got on the football field, we made it in the weight room. We got a lot stronger. We made a lot of progress in the classroom. And with the results, to win six out of nine during the regular season and win a playoff game, we took a step forward.
“We’re not satisfied, by any means. We had some games we would have liked another shot at, but I still classify it as a good success. The program continues to get better because the kids are putting in the work.”
The highlights were many, some even in defeat. The Stars started 0-2, although both losses were last-possession decisions to Martinsville and Bloomington North. BNL won four straight after that disappointing (yet optimistic) start, then dropped another road battle against Floyd Central (which decided the Hoosier Hills Conference title that BNL was defending) when a gutsy two-point conversion in the final minute was thwarted. BNL opened Sectional 24 with a first-ever road triumph in Evansville, conquering Harrison.
The ending was not a Hollywood script, as the Stars fell 42-6 against the undefeated Panthers. BNL still has only one sectional championship trophy, so that remains the next goal.
“We saw some elite level competition,” Barker said. “Reitz is a pretty high standard, Bloomington North went into the postseason ranked No.1, Floyd Central was ranked, so we saw where we want to get. Now we have to keep building to get to that point.”
Before looking ahead, the senior class must be commended. Their departure leaves a huge hole in terms of starting spots, two-way contributors and multi-year stars. Barker’s three-year tenure, and the growth each season, can be traced to their aging on the field.
On offense, the upperclassmen included quarterback Memphis Louden, receivers Ryker Hughes and Gabe Nelson, wingback Piaire Childs, and veteran linemen Garrett Hayes, Kline Woodward, Cade Mungle and Michael Barr. On defense, the list includes linebacker Brayden Baker, safety Maddox Ray and cornerback Trace Rynders. Ely Benish also played corner and special teams but suffered injuries early in the season.
“They represent a lot of snaps on Friday nights,” Barker said. “That’s a huge hit as far as the guys with experience. You get accustomed to them being there. They grew up and took some lumps, grew into really good players. That will be tough – not just replacing their productivity, but their leadership on and off the field. That will be a big challenge.”
Louden’s impact cannot be overstated. He was a three-year starter who compiled over 5,000 career yards as a dual threat with the ball. BNL’s front line holes must also be addressed.
“The last three years, that’s a position we didn’t think about a lot,” Barker said. “We knew Memphis would be there. He was able to do a lot of things in the running game and the passing game. I’m excited to see who steps up. We have some young guys who are really talented (sophomore Dayson Kirby and freshman Lucas Ira), so it will be a fun competition.
“Losing offensive linemen in high school football is a very big deal. That’s where we have to grow and develop the most during the offseason.”
BNL’s defense, which was better than anticipated while allowing 19.6 points per game, will return some important pieces, including linemen Junior Arellano and Brady Byers, linebackers Ruel Steele, Tate Tanksley, Tyler Webb and Gibson Crane, and cornerback Luke Morris.
On offense, leading rusher and receiver Cal Gates will be a main weapon once again. Junior running back Zach Brosamle, junior receiver Gavin Pedersen, sophomore Daxton Short and freshman Jaden Gilbert also saw significant time on the field.
“I was surprised by some of the younger guys who stepped in, how fast they acclimated to the varsity level,” Barker said. “We knew we would have a good senior group with a lot of experience and leadership. We had some sophomores who played a lot, some juniors who had not played a lot that gelled together and got used to the speed and physicality of the game.
“That’s exciting to think about, what we can do defensively next year. Getting the numbers up for the people who are ready to play on Fridays will be key. Next year we have to have people step up to hone in on one position and be productive enough to stay there.”