By DOUG DONNELLY
OTTAWA LAKE – Whiteford parents, coaches and players celebrated their 2017 state championship Sunday night with the annual post-season banquet that included a send-off for the team’s 14 seniors and a sneak peak into the future of Bobcat football.
Thomas Eitniear was named the 2017 Most Valuable Player after a record breaking season in which he quarterbacked the Bobcats to the state championship game victory over Saginaw Nouvel Catholic Central. All-State Offensive Tackle Lucas Tesznar was given the Coach’s Award and another senior, Jack Garrison, was named Most Improved Player.
Whiteford head coach Jason Mensing and the rest of the coaching staff introduced each senior one-by-one and then each of them gave short speeches, thanking the community, their parents, coaches and teammates.
“Going to Whiteford was one of the best decisions of my life,” senior Abba Risley said during his speech.
Garrison thanked the community for their support, including the send-off to Ford Field at 6 a.m. the morning of the state championship game.
“The community we have here is pretty great,” Garrison said. “This has been an unforgettable experience.”
Eitniear gave an emotional thank you to his teammates, saying, “You’ve made my high school football career very special.”
Eitniear finished his season with Whiteford records for most passing yards (1,403), most touchdown passes (17), the highest completion percentage (67.9%) and the most yards of total offense (2,322). He also holds a host of Bobcat career records, such as games played (43), consecutive starts for a quarterback (41), most career passing yards (3,502) and most career touchdown passes (41). He’s just the second Whiteford player to win Offensive Player of the Year award given by The Monroe News.
Tesznar is the first consensus All-State player in Whiteford history – being named first team on all four All-State squads chosen. Mensing said he’s being recruited by several colleges and that he expects him to excel wherever he chooses to play.
“He is a tremendous football player, has tremendous size and is a tremendous athlete,” Mensing said. “He’s a kid who is going to make it.”
Several other Bobcats were honored, including the entire team for ranking No. 6 in the state in terms of academics. Another honoree was senior Jarret Atherton, who became the first Whiteford player to be named first team All-State on both offense and defense in the same season. Eight different Bobcats earned All-State notice this season alone.
In his senior speech, Matthew Taylor, one of the captains with Eitniear and Tesznar, talked about the unique experience of playing football at Whiteford.
“Running out through the woods is something special,” he said. “I love this game and the community.”
Several other records were broken this season by juniors. Logan Murphy set the mark for most rushing yards in a season (1,873) and most 2-point conversions in a season (20); Ty Eitniear tied the record for most interceptions in a season (7) and most kickoff returns for touchdowns in a season (2) and Brayden Clark-Gilmore set the single season Bobcat record for touchdown receptions (10).
As a team Whiteford shattered previous marks for points, total offense, rushing yards and passing yards in a season. The Bobcats finished as the highest scoring team in the state of Michigan with 737 points and won 14 games – the only school in Tri-County Conference and Monroe County Region history with 14 wins in a single season.
Mensing said winning a state title takes a tremendous amount of effort from school administration, coaches and parents. He singled out parent Holly Kohler for her efforts in organizing activities and events on behalf of the team.
“Our parent group is one of the best,” he said.
Team photographer Cari Hayes and trainer Jake Ladd were among the others singled out for their contributions to the program.
In addition to the varsity players, also honored were the seventh- and eighth-grade football players, the 6-2 junior varsity squad and all the cheerleaders in the program. State Rep. Jason Sheppard presented a Resolution signed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
The Whiteford varsity has gone 37-4 over the past three years and is 61-13 since Mensing arrived six years ago, making the playoffs every season and winning two TCC, four District and three Regional titles. The Bobcats have made two trips to Ford Field. He was hired by then athletic director Nate Gust and turned Whiteford into a football powerhouse.
Assistant coach Bob Ondrovick called out the coaching staff for their day-to-day effort in building a state championship program.
“Whiteford couldn’t ask for any better than what we have here,” he said. “Our young men get great coaching on both sides of the ball every day.”
Mensing had a message for the underclassmen, saying they have the chance to be the first group of Whiteford football players to win two state titles and three league championships.
“The weight room is open,” he said. “There are so many more things you can accomplish if you want it.”