From left, Whiteford’s Lucas Tesznar, Thomas Eitniear, and Logan Murphy helped the Bobcats finish 13-1 last season. This year they’re 4-0 and ranked No. 2 in Division 8. THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
OTTAWA LAKE, Mich. — In their 61st season of high school varsity football, the Whiteford Bobcats of sixth-year coach Jason Mensing are in the midst of the best era in the program’s history.
Since Mensing took the reins, Whiteford has posted a 51-13 overall record, made a school-record five straight Division 8 Michigan playoff appearances, outscored foes by an average of 37-17, reached its first state semifinal in 2015, and played in the state championship game last year at Ford Field in Detroit.
The only setback in a 13-1 season was a 35-6 loss to perennial Michigan small-school power Muskegon Catholic Central, which has won four straight state championships, and 12 all time.
In the latest Associated Press state poll, Muskegon CC is ranked No. 1 in D-8, and Whiteford is No. 2.
The current Bobcats, coming off their first Tri-County Conference championship since 1994, are well aware of their achievements.
But, in applying Mensing’s coaching philosophy, the Whiteford players are less consumed with their recent glory and more conscious of the formula required to sustain their excellence.
That living-in-the-present mentality has the Bobcats off to a perfect 4-0 start overall, 2-0 in TCC play, and outscoring their opposition 53-13 per game, including last Friday’s 64-22 conference win at Whitmore Lake. They host Adrian Madison today at 7 p.m.
Whiteford has been led by its three senior third-year starters – quarterback Thomas Eitniear, and two-way tackles Lucas Tesznar (6-foot-5, 280 pounds) and Jarrett Atherton (6-1, 250) – and junior running back Logan Murphy.
Eitniear, who will play baseball on scholarship as a middle infielder at the University of Toledo, is the trigger man in the Bobcats’ potent, run-oriented Flex-shift-wing offense. He is 16-of-25 passing for 302 yards with four touchdowns, and has rushed 24 times for 267 yards and four scores.
“In my opinion it’s our work ethic in practice,” Eitniear said of the key to his team’s success. “Everyone is getting up and ready to practice every single day. We have tons of experience, and when [newer] guys need help at a certain position, we have other guys who can help them out and keep them positive in practice.
“The [inspirational] quote we use is ‘Do the necessary things to achieve the impossible.’ We’ve been focusing on that, and that’s what’s led to most of our success.”
Murphy has rushed 40 times for 617 yards and scored seven TDs, the top producer on an offense that has outgained opponents 463 to 181 per game in total yardage.
Some of this output is created by the line play of Tesznar, a first team all-state selection last year who has received recruiting interest from Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan.
“Everybody has really bought into the program,” Tesznar said. “With what coach Mensing has taught us, everybody believes in one goal. We’re all working in the offseason, and during the season in practice, to make each other better. It shows on the field.
“He given us all hope and made us believe in coming together as one, like a family. Nobody has an ego. Everybody’s in it for one goal, and that’s to win the game. It’s not just on the field. He wants us to be good men off the field.”
Other key contributions on the line have come from Atherton and 6-5, 210-pound tight end Matthew Taylor.
“Our major objective is to create edge conflict through alignment and pre-snap shift,” Mensing said of the double wing offense he has used since 2003. “We shift on every play, and our ends play a lot of different types of positions.”
Mensing’s previous head coaching stops, all in Michigan since 2002, were at Addison, Grayling, Owosso, and his alma mater, Tecumseh.
“Thomas Eitniear is a special athlete who is a dual threat,” Mensing said. “He can run and throw, he’s got great composure, and he’s got a quiet confidence to him, and he’s a tremendous athlete on top of that.
“Lucas Tesznar’s work ethic and attention to detail is pretty incredible. As large as he is, probably his greatest gift as an offensive lineman is his athleticism. He’s got very good feet and he bends well. His upside is tremendous because of his work ethic and his demeanor.”
Mensing moved Murphy from fullback to wing after the strong and fast 210-pounder rushed for 816 yards as a sophomore last year.
“Logan is a big, strong, fast kid, and he’s got good vision,” Mensing. “He sees holes and he keeps hitting them downhill.”
Mensing attributes Whiteford’s success to the team’s weight-training program, the players’ commitment to work toward a common goal, and to an experienced staff of assistants which includes five former head coaches.
Participation is also a key factor. From Whiteford’s total enrollment of 239, the program has 47 football players in grades 9-12.
Above all, Bobcat players buy into, and work daily, to perfect their schemes.
“We are pretty steadfast in our philosophy on all three phases of the game,” Mensing said. “Offensively, we have a system that not many people run, and it’s built around efficiency in the run-pass game. The fundamentals are pretty specific, and we have a system of instruction where kids are learning something in the third, fourth, fifth, sixth grade, all the way up to what they’re doing the 12th grade.”
Can Whiteford blaze a trail back to Ford Field this season?
“When you’re in the process and trying to get better from week to week, you never really know what you are,” Mensing said. “But, I think there’s a belief among the players and the coaches that we certainly can achieve some big things.
“We have a gift to be able to play nine games, and anything after that is gravy. If things happen where we can make a nice run again, then that’ll be awesome.”
Whiteford HS football running back Logan Murphy.