BALDWYN After a full week of practice, coach Michael Gray is optimistic about his Baldwyn Bearcats football team.

Baldwyn went 3-8 last season after an 0-6 start, but finished the regular season strong with a 3-1 record in Division 1-2A to clinch a playoff spot before losing in the first round.

This season, Baldwyn returns some experienced and sizeable players, welcomes some new additions to the team, and makes the move to MHSAA Class 1A, where the Bearcats now reside in Division 1-1A.

“These guys are working really hard,” Gray said. “They’re pushing each other hard. We are more athletic this year than we were last year. Plus, we don’t care anything about going 3-8 again. We are trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Coming back to lead the team with a year’s experience as a starter is junior quarterback Maddux Richey.

Richey didn’t have the best statistical season last year, only completing 47 percent of his passes for 1,049 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, but he saw great strides over the course of the season.

After that 0-6 start, Richey seemed to get more comfortable in the pocket. Richey only threw interceptions in three of the last six games, while seven of his nine touchdowns came over the last four games.

In division play, Richey threw twice as many touchdowns as interceptions and had over a 60 percent completion percentage in three of the four games.

“I think I just settled and relaxed,” Richey said of his late-season success. “You get that one win under your belt and you’re not just completely frantic all the time. Hopefully I can carry that over to this season.”

Richey has some scoring threats to help out with leading receiver Jacolby Williams returning alongside running back Kevrick Richey.

Now in Class 1A, Baldwyn has seven division opponents instead of four, so the gauntlet of a non-division schedule is not as severe as it has been in the past. In the four non-division games, Baldwyn plays Kossuth, Booneville, Nettleton, and then Belmont.

To start Division 1-1A, Baldwyn will travel to Thrasher in Week 6.

“I tell people all the time that the biggest thing about moving down is the non-division games,” Gray said. “We are playing four quality opponents in those first five weeks, but then we aren’t playing two or three more games like we have in the past. There’s only four of them instead of six or seven.”

dalton.middleton@journalinc.com Twitter: @DLMiddleton8

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