By DOUG DONNELLY
OTTAWA LAKE – Tonight was to be the first varsity football game of the 2020 season.
Instead, the Whiteford Bobcat football team and schools across the state are in the midst of a limited fall practice schedule and getting ready for a spring season.
“It’s the reality we are in right now,” Whiteford football coach at athletic director Jason Mensing said. “We are dealing with it and schools across Michigan are dealing with it.”
The MIchigan High School Athletic Association announced in mid-August that the 2020 season was being delayed until spring as the country deals with the coronavirus global pandemic. It put on hold the football season for the Bobcats, which would have hosted the Blissfield Royals to kick off the season tonight.
“It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have that opportunity,” Mensing said. “I know everyone in our community is anxious for football, and all sports, and the experience that comes with it. Hopefully, the spring season will yield the opportunity to keep us connected to our community.”
Football teams across Michigan are being allowed 16 fall practices this year to stay prepared for the 2020-21 season. What the schedule will look like, how many games and whether or not fans will be allowed is still being discussed at multiple levels. MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl hinted during a recent interview that the schedule is not likely to be a full, nine-game slate.
“Committees have been formed and what I think will happen is they will come up with three or so proposals, and those proposals will be voted on by stakeholders,” Mensing said. “I’m not sure yet what the spring season might look like. There are lots of different ways it could go right now.”
Whiteford’s football team fought through some growing pains last season but still managed to make the state playoffs for the eighth consecutive season with Mensing as head coach. Nearly 50 players were part of program when practice started Aug. 10.
“We might be even younger than last year,” Mensing said. “Those things happen. We’ve gone through a couple of smaller classes when it comes to the number of boys. That’s the nature of it when you are at a small school. That doesn’t mean you can’t compete or win with the players you have. It just means there is a little more of a teaching aspect.”
The building blocks that Whiteford does have when it embarks on the new season are solid, starting with returning all-state offensive lineman Noah Bauman.
“In our offense we have what we call a ‘super tackle,’” Mensing said. “Our offense is predicated on having that one guy, that one solid foundation up front. Noah is that guy for us. He’s big, he’s quick, and he’s dominant. He’s pretty disruptive on the defensive side of the ball, too.”
Bauman has some company next to him on the line with returning starters Luke Andrews and Nicholas Freeman. The Bobcats are also experienced in the backfield, where senior Devon Shaw (883 yards rushing a season ago) and junior Cole Giesige (668 yards) are back. Also returning is sophomore quarterback Shea Ruddy who started all 10 games last year for the Bobcats, throwing for more than 800 yards and completing 58 percent of his passes. Two-way starter Luke Masserant is another Bobcat regular.
“We have some nice players to build around,” Mensing said.
The second non-league game of the season was to be a match-up with Ida. The Bobcats and Blue Streaks haven’t played on the football field since the early 1970s.
For now, the Bobcats remain in practice mode, preparing for when a season does get the go-ahead.