Next Players Up Keep Whiteford Surging
October 5, 2017
By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
OTTAWA LAKE – For many smaller Class C football teams, losing four starters to injuries during the first six weeks of the season would be devastating.
In Ottawa Lake, however, probably only those close to the Whiteford football program have noticed.
Despite the injury bug, the Bobcats are rolling like never before in school history. They are 6-0, averaging 53 points per game and sit alone atop the Tri-County Conference. The key is an unusual amount of depth – and a 28-player roster with 14 seniors and 14 juniors.
“Some of it has to do with a couple of innate classes, with more than the usual amount of kids,” sixth-year Bobcats coach Jason Mensing said. “There’s always an ebb and flow from one grade to the next. But, what we are experiencing is different. In Hunter Lake, not only did we lose a running back, but he was also a cornerback, kick returner and punt returner. And, Alex (Kohler) is a second-year starting guard, but is also our punter and he kicked off.”
Typically, only two or three players start on both sides of the ball for the Bobcats – a rare occurrence for a team has played in the Division 8 playoffs each of the past four seasons (they were in Division 7 in 2012).
“We try and coach every kid the same,” Mensing said. “That’s a very important piece. We really try and develop every player into a starting player. The ultimate goal is to make sure every kid gets on the field.”
Part of the reason the Bobcats have developed such depth is their deep playoff runs the past couple of seasons. The 2015 team advanced to the Division 8 Semifinals, and last year the Bobcats played in the championship game at Ford Field against Muskegon Catholic Central. Since Mensing arrived at Whiteford, he has invited every junior varsity player to practice with the varsity for all of the playoff weeks.
“Those playoff runs have allowed our JV players a ton of extra practice over the past couple of seasons,” Mensing said. “If you think about that, it’s another season and then some. That makes a really big difference, especially the first two weeks or so of the next season. The players come in and already know what to expect, and they know the routine and the pace. They are playing at a higher level at an earlier time.”
Mensing and his staff of 10 varsity coaches work with grades 9-12 in practice on a daily basis.
“That’s a critical piece of coaching – every kid is receiving the same instruction,” he said.
A Tecumseh graduate and former Adrian College football player, Mensing is 53-13 since becoming head coach of the Bobcats, giving him the highest winning percentage of any coach in school history. The program has never been stronger – six straight playoff appearances, a 9-0 regular season last year and two consecutive 9-0 seasons by the JV team. He said he developed his coaching style from playing small college football.
“My background is small college football,” he said. “It always seemed to me to be the best way to operate that I know.”
Whiteford’s offense has rushed for more than 2,200 yards heading into Friday’s game against Sand Creek – an average of about 10 yards a carry. Many of those yards are gained behind 6-foot-5, 280-pound all-state tackle Lucas Tesznar. Jacob Lewis, Jordan Book and Jaret Atherton all are starting for a second year on the offensive line. There are five solid backups in the mix, too, who have received plenty of playing time even though Whiteford has had a running clock at some point in each of its six games.
“At the line of scrimmage we have guys who can come in and play that would start in just about any other year,” Mensing said.
Whiteford lost two 1,000-yard running backs to graduation after last season, but have found several capable replacements in six juniors: Logan Murphy (823 yards on just 61 carries), Zach Bertz (266 yards and 10 touchdowns), Nathan Bauman (258 yards), Ty Eitniear (188 yards) and Lake (148 yards in three games). Bradyn Clark-Gilmore started the season at running back and had a 100-yard game but shifted to tight end and is now the leading receiver on the team (280 yards on 11 receptions).
Thomas Eitniear is the Bobcats’ quarterback. As the starting signal-caller, Eitniear is 29-4, already setting a record for most starts and wins by a Whiteford QB. He holds the school record for career passing touchdowns and is nearing the school record for career passing yards. This season he has 567 yards passing and 409 yards rushing. He’s committed to play baseball at the University of Toledo next year.
“We’ve got a Division I athlete playing quarterback,” Mensing said. “He is a difference-maker. I can’t tell you how many drives or even games have changed over the last three years because of him making a big play.”
Inside linebacker Eli Shelton, safety Abba Risley, cornerback Ty Eitniear (three interceptions) and end Ethan Inman have been standouts on defense. Jack Garrison stepped up when Lake was injured and had several big games. One of the few two-way starters, Matthew Taylor, has been solid all season.
Mensing said players like Thomas Eitniear and Murphy won’t put up gaudy numbers because of the system they are in, but that doesn’t make them any less effective.
“It’s not about any one individual effort,” he said. “It’s about a collective group. That’s what we’ve always been about.”
Whiteford is seeking to win back-to-back league championships for the first time in more than 50 years, the last time when it was a member of the River Raisin Conference. They have games remaining against Sand Creek (3-3), Clinton (4-2) and Britton Deerfield (1-5) on the regular-season schedule. Then the playoffs begin. Lake and Kohler are expected back before the end of the season to help solidify the depth.
“We still have room to show improvement from week to week,” Mensing said. “As long as we continue to improve, and if we can continue to get better over the next three weeks, it will determine where we will end up on the season.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Ottawa Lake Whiteford’s Eli Shelton, standing for the national anthem, is one of the defense’s standouts this fall. (Middle) Quarterback Thomas Eitniear takes off around a corner during his third season as a starter. (Below) From left: Jacob Lewis, Lucas Tesznar and coach Jason Mensing confer on the sideline. (Top and middle photos by Carl Hayes, below photo by Doug Donnelly.)
Mendon 8-Player Championship Game Run Paced by Record-Setting Rushing
By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor
May 26, 2023
Mendon’s run to the Division 2 Final last fall included some of the strongest rushing performances over the history of 8-player football.
The Hornets ran for 4,317 yards, second-most all-time, on the second-most attempts (520) and with a record-setting 682 yards Oct. 14 against Marcellus. Mendon also set the record for total offense with 692 total in that game, and made the single-season touchdowns list with 76 including 66 rushing (also second on that list).
Junior Jack McCaw made the single-season scoring list with 212 points, most coming on 29 touchdowns, and Evan Lukeman made the single-game rushing list with 401 yards against Marcellus. Mendon’s defense also earned praise, twice making the fewest-first-downs-allowed list with a low of three.
See below for more recent additions to the 8-player portion of the football record book:
Athens’ Landon Bennett earned a pair of record book entries after reaching the end zone seven times during his team’s 72-0 win over Burr Oak on Sept. 8. His seven scores are tied for third-most in 8-player history and included three rushing, three on punt returns and one on an interception return. The three punt return touchdowns are a record. Bennett is a junior.
On the night Powers North Central broke its 8-player record for consecutive wins, claiming its 28th straight, senior Luke Gorzinski tied Jets great Jason Whitens for the record for interception touchdowns in a game with two, scoring on returns during the second and fourth quarters. Gorzinski has signed with Michigan Tech, and North Central’s winning streak is 37 games and counting.
A pair of Atlanta offensive playmakers and a top defensive lineman earned a total of seven entries in the record book for achievements last fall. Senior quarterback Tyler Currie threw for 30 touchdowns over eight games, and also made the records for six touchdowns and 419 passing yards against Whittemore-Prescott on Sept. 23; the passing yards are second-most for one 8-player game. Sophomore Landon Galea was added for 263 yards and five of those touchdowns against the Cardinals, and also for 1,418 yards receiving and 23 touchdowns over nine games. Junior teammate Tucker Kendrick made the tackles for loss list with five against Hillman on Oct. 6.
Adrian Lenawee Christian senior Brady McKelvey became the first to make the career extra points list in 8-player football this past fall. He bettered his previous single-season record making 64 of 66 extra-point attempts over 11 games and finishing his two-year varsity career with 123 extra points in 127 tries.
Sam McKissack reached the record book showcasing multiple skills for Crystal Falls Forest Park during the 2021 season – twice for rushing attempts in a game including with a record 59 against Ontonagon that Sept. 10, and then with a record 70-yard punt Oct. 30, 2021, against Lake Linden-Hubbell. Teammate Devon Basirico also made the record book with six fumble recoveries over 11 games that season. As a team, Forest Park was added twice for single-game rushing attempts – including 73 total in that Ontonagon game – and for 424 rushes over 11 games for the season. McKissack and Basirico are seniors this spring.
Nikolaus Lewis tied for eighth-most rushing touchdowns in an 8-player game when he reached the end zone six times for Carsonville-Port Sanilac in its win over Caseville on Oct. 7. He’s a senior this spring.
Bridgman has won 24 straight games over the last three seasons, and an exceptional offense – and exceptional offensive star – have played major roles. The Bees were added for 658 total yards in a win over Lawrence last season, that total ranking third all-time, and also 613 yards in a win over Eau Claire. Those included totals of 575 and 547 rushing yards, respectively, and Bridgman was added for 3,598 rushing yards (sixth on the list), 59 rushing touchdowns (fourth) and 76 total touchdowns (seventh). Senior Reid Haskins capped his four-year, 32-game varsity career with 13 record book entries, including for 254 points last season over nine games (tied for fifth all-time) and a record 620 career points, 41 touchdowns last season (fifth) and a record 95 for his career, 2,344 rushing yards last season (third) and a record 5,206 for his career, and 41 rushing touchdowns last season (third) and a record 94 for his career. Senior teammate Tanner Peters made the records three times including for 50 extra points last season (fourth) and 99 over 26 games and three seasons (second on the career list).
Mio's Austin Fox rewrote the 8-player passing record book this past fall, with his 621 yards in a game against Whittemore-Prescott setting a single-game record as he totaled four of the five-highest passing yardage totals. He also set a record with 3,516 over nine games for the season, another record with 289 passing attempts over those nine games and a third record for nine touchdown passes in that game against the Cardinals. His 41 touchdown passes total rank fourth. Teammates Gage Long and Nathan Hurst also earned several record book entries on the receiving end of those passes. Long’s 297 receiving yards against Whittemore-Prescott were tied for third most, and Hurst’s 266 against Alcona rank eighth. Long set a single-season record with 1,739 receiving yards, with Hurst sixth all-time at 1,321, and Long’s 14 receptions against the Cardinals and 70 for the season also rank second on those respective lists. Hurst set a record for longest 8-player kickoff return with a 99-yarder against St. Helen Charlton Heston. All three are seniors.
Peck was one of the first MHSAA 8-player champions, claiming the title in 2013, and Cody Abrego one of the state’s first 8-player stars. The Pirates were added to the MHSAA record book 52 times, and Abrego 14 times individually. Among the most notable entries for the 2015 graduate were for 462 points scored over his two-season career (ranking sixth all-time), 74 career touchdowns (sixth), 2,202 rushing yards in 2013 (fifth) and 35 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (sixth). Current senior Caleb Lentner was one of the stars statewide this past season, and he was added eight times including for 50 points scored in a game (ranking second), 272 points for a season last fall (fifth), eight touchdowns in a game (tied for second), 42 touchdowns in a season (fifth), an 8-player record of 2,694 rushing yards from last season, and 38 rushing touchdowns also last fall (fourth). Others to make the individual lists were Nathan Robar, Caleb Dudley, Steven VanConant, Kyle Abrego and Nathan Neihaus, Dudley for a record 20 career interceptions over two seasons and VanConant for a record 12 tackles for loss in a 2022 game and 36 tackles for loss for the season last fall. The Pirates also are all over the 8-player team record book, including for a record 97 touchdowns in 2013, a record 5,895 yards of total offense that season, 528 carries, 4,346 rushing yards and 73 rushing touchdowns in 2013 (all ranking second); and 24 interceptions in 2014, which ranks second on that list.
Senior quarterback JR Hildebrand was one of the most dynamic players in 8-player football in the fall in leading Martin to the Division 1 title. He had one of his most exciting nights in a playoff opener against Tekonsha, making the single-game touchdown pass list with six in a 68-6 victory.
PHOTO Mendon’s Jack McCaw (21) eludes a tackle during the 8-Player Division 2 Final in November at Northern Michigan University. (Photo by Cara Kamps.)