The Wildcats won three of their final four games to finish 5-5. The loss, to Class 3A, Region 5’s No. 3 team Susan Moore, came by a mere seven points. Even better, the White Plains players followed up with a commitment to their off-season strength and conditioning program.
About 56 players went through spring practice in 2012, but that number dwindled by two or three almost every week of summer workouts. The roster was reduced to 40 before the season ended. Now the Wildcats have 38, but head coach Heath Harmon believes the 38 are totally committed to playing.
“It was one of the best off-seasons we’ve ever had. Even though we didn’t have the numbers, these have put in so much work that they’re not going anywhere,” Harmon said. “That’s the kind of off-season we’ve had.”
During the school year, those who weren’t playing basketball or baseball stayed after school to lift weights and condition. At the start of the summer, when Harmon offered to meet even a few players at 6 a.m. for early morning weight lifting ahead of the traditional 8 a.m. session, everyone showed up at 6. The 6 a.m. session became so popular White Plains conducted pre-season practices at 6 a.m. before the start of school Monday.
All of that has Harmon and his charges contemplating a place in the 3A postseason. This at a school that hasn’t played a postseason game since Darvin Poole’s 1994 team and had never reached the postseason before that time.
“We have made the playoffs one time in school history. You’re talking about in 40-something years of football making the playoffs one time,” Harmon said. “They can make the playoffs a second time. That’s a tough challenge but this group can make it. They can win a couple they’re not supposed to.”
White Plains found success running the football out of a double-wing look, often with two tight ends, over the final six games of 2012. Running back Johnny Bynum, now a senior, rushed for more than 100 yards from the spread in the opening game against Ohatchee but netted just 76 yards after Week 4.
“We went to that double wing and he had over 1,000 in the next six so we stayed in that double wing," Harmon said. "We’ve tried to add to that because we know people are going to come up with a plan for that. We were only running like three plays out of that.”
Senior Joseph Dothard, who had some experience at quarterback in the double wing last year, will direct the offense. Junior Ryan Hanson will also start at running back in the double wing and at wide receiver in spread looks.
Harmon said he is leaning toward sophomore Caleb Turner as the starter at fullback. Senior Mitchell Jones also has experience at running the ball despite a series of nagging injuries last year but Jones may be more valuable at linebacker.
Harmon predicted junior Dillon Greenwood, a three-sport athlete, will be a playmaker at wide receiver. Senior Rod Young is a powerful tight end.
The offensive line should be a strength.
“Jordan Jeffers and Logan Price are our two guys returning that played real well last year. Kade (Shaw) battled some injuries and he missed several games but when he’s in there we’re better,” Harmon said.
Junior Calvin Thornberg is the starter at center. Also battling for playing time in the line are Kyle Raughton, Austin Henninger and Kameron Cleveland.
On defense, look for the Wildcats to have a base of three linemen, three linebackers and five secondary players to counter the many spread offenses Harmon expects to encounter again this year in region play.
The defensive line will include the veteran Young and the other linemen will come from the group of offensive linemen. Jeffers has experience at end and Price at tackle.
The corps of linebackers includes Turner, the sophomore, at middle linebacker and senior Patrick Bryan. Senior Dontavious Thomas has experience at linebacker and running back but an injury prevented him from playing in the spring. Harmon said Austin Champion showed he is ready to provide depth at linebacker and fullback after an excellent scrimmage Friday.
Senior Colton Reid returns to start at cornerback for the third year and can also play safety. Harmon called junior cornerback Landon Price one of the Wildcats’ most improved players.
Young will kick extra points and field goals. His kickoffs in practice have been consistently in the end zone or just short of the goal line. Turner will be the punter.
White Plains at a glance
Head coach: Heath Harmon (18-32 in five years at White Plains; 47-69 in 11 years overall, including 11-2 at Andalusia in 2007, 11-21 at Munford from 2004-06 and 7-14 at Cordova in 2002 and 2003.)
Last year’s record: 5-5, including 2-5 in Class 3A, Region 5. Did not make the playoffs.
Outlook: We know Johnny Bynum, a 1,000-yard rusher last year, can run the football. Quarterback Joseph Dothard needs to be adept enough as a passer to keep opposing defenses from loading the box to stop Bynum, and Harmon believes he can. White Plains begins its region schedule with games against perennial playoff contenders Saks, Weaver and Glencoe. A 2-1 region start could put the Wildcats back in the postseason.
Aug. 30 at Ohatchee
Sept. 6 at Saks #
Sept. 13 Weaver #
Sept. 20 Glencoe #
Sept. 27 at Pleasant Valley
Oct. 4 at Piedmont #
Oct. 11 Ashville #
Oct. 18 at Cleveland #
Oct. 25 Susan Moore #
Nov. 1 Collinsville
# Denotes region game