By DOUG DONNELLY
OTTAWA LAKE — High school football players these days get a heavy dose of off-season football. From volunteer workout sessions to weight lifting to organized seven-on-sevens to team camps, players see plenty of the football field during the summer. Whiteford is no different.
Even with those times, the first official day of mandatory football practice is something special.
“There is a ‘it starts now’ significance,” said Whiteford head coach Jason Mensing, who started his seventh season as the Bobcat varsity coach. “The summer is different. It’s not consistent. You have days off and not everyone is always there. From the first day, its time for the kids to make a commitment – you are either all in or you are not. Without that, you can’t be successful.”
Whiteford is one of just eight teams in the state that enter the 2018 season as defending state champion, having won the Division 8 state title on the day after Thanksgiving at Ford Field. It was Whiteford’s second consecutive trip to Ford Field. But, coach Mensing says, this team is not 2017. It’s 2018. And, its time for the current crop of Bobcats to create their own identity.
“As a coaching staff, I think we are all live-in-the-moment type of guys,” he said. “We don’t focus on last year or yesterday. We look ahead. Our players are like that, too.”
Whiteford returns six starters on each side of the ball from last year’s 14-0 team. It’s also the seventh year for the Bobcats running the same offensive and defensive schemes. With so much repetition over the last few years, the returning players starting the season Monday seemed familiar with the roles they will have this year.
“The basics never get done being instructed,” Mensing said. “But, having the familiarity allows us to open the playbook a little. It allows us more synergy quicker with each group.”
Monday was interrupted somewhat by the weather. Heavy lightning forced the Bobcats inside the school gymnasium.
“Eighty percent of today became a walk-through,” Mensing said. “We were fortunate to get outside when we did and get some work in.”
The Bobcats will scrimmage at Grass Lake on August 16 and open the 2018 season Aug. 24 at home against Blissfield. It will be the seventh consecutive year and 27th time overall that Whiteford vs. Blissfield have kicked off the season.