By Chris Brooks for The News Examiner
White House High’s football team is used to postseason games, so when the Blue Devils were left out of last season’s Class 4A playoffs, it was a rare occurrence.
Not only did White House’s 23-season streak of consecutive playoff appearances end, the program suffered its first losing record since 1983, finishing 4-6.
Neither statistic was a desired one for the Blue Devils, or their fans.
“It was a huge disappointment,” head coach Jeff Porter said. “It was a very huge disappointment and we can only hope that our kids feel the same way. It was a huge disappointment to our football program, our school and our community.”
Injuries ravaged White House’s ranks last year, but Porter won’t use that as an excuse.
“Injuries contributed, but we still had enough to get the job done,” Porter said. “And we just didn’t get the job done. Injuries didn’t keep us out (of the playoffs), teams just beat us and they deserved to go and we didn’t.”
The Blue Devils also have only eight seniors on this year’s roster.
“This is the smallest senior class I think we’ve ever had,” Porter said. “And I believe last year’s class was the largest group of seniors we’ve had. We had 20 seniors last year.”
Sophomore Andrew Nixon will start at quarterback, with senior Hunter Brown as the backup.
Senior Preston Long is expected to start at tailback this season after being one of those injured runners last year. He fills the void left by Trey Hyde’s graduation, and should see the majority of carries in the Blue Devils’ offense.
Junior Carter Hunt should also receive touches when he gives Long a breather. Junior Landon Deming and sophomore Will Frazier will provide depth at the tailback spot.
With little in the way of experience in the backfield, Porter said that the skill players have to be prepared to put in the work in order to keep playing time.
“We’ve got to have minimal mistakes and steady improvement,” Porter said. “Great work habits start from desire. Our kids just have to desire results and be willing to work for them.”
Sophomore Ethan Rainey is the likely starter at fullback, with junior Brian McCreery as his backup.
Connor Holder is one of eight White House High seniors
Connor Holder is one of eight White House High seniors who will be suiting up for the Blue Devils in 2016. (Photo: Chris Brooks/Gallatin News Examiner)
Senior Connor Holder is expected to start at wide receiver, with senior Dalton Hornal, junior Seth Bumbalough and junior Kevin James also in the mix.
Senior Dawson Bumbalough anchors the offensive line at center, with junior Tyler McMurtry at left tackle, senior Austin Hoffman at left guard, junior Tyler Ridings at right guard and junior Elijah Zweydorff at right tackle.
Another senior, Danny Stoutt, is expected to start at tight end, with sophomore Eddy Walker as his immediate backup.
Only two starters return on defense – Stoutt at defensive end and senior Connor Holder at defensive back.
Junior Tyler McMurtry and sophomore Joey Cartwright are also likely starters on the defensive line, as well as sophomore Colby Jackson and junior Josh Dailey.
Rainey and McCreery are expected to start at linebacker, with Walker, sophomore Keyvon Dickerson, junior Noah Hawes and sophomore Rhiley Burton providing depth.
Deming and junior Jordan Schaffer are potential starters at strong safety, as well as Holder at free safety.
Juniors Brett Drake and Seth Bumbalough are expected to start at the cornerback positions.
Perhaps the Blue Devils’ biggest void was created with Logan Trimmer’s graduation. Replacing Trimmer means White House has to find a starting tight end, linebacker, kicker and punter.
Head coach Jeff Porter returns for his 30th season
Head coach Jeff Porter returns for his 30th season leading the White House High program. (Photo: Chris Brooks/Gallatin News Examiner)
“We’ve been blessed to have a great tradition of kickers,” Porter said. “Austin Rutherford’s going to step in to placekick this year, and Kevin James will be our punter.”
James and Holder are also expected to return kicks and punts.
With only five region games in a six-team region, the pressure is magnified on each of those contests.
That’s what makes Sept. 2’s date at Portland so important.
The Panthers reached the playoffs with just two region victories last year, but one of them came at the Blue Devils’ expense. Getting revenge for that loss puts White House in a far more favorable position down the stretch.
A victory at Springfield (Sept. 16) or against visiting Macon County (Sept. 30) could be enough to get White House back into the postseason. Wins against both teams would surely lock the Blue Devils in, which means the visit to Pearl-Cohn on Oct. 14 won’t be so daunting.
“Obviously, Pearl-Cohn went all the way to the championship game last year, and they’ve done a good job with their program in bringing a lot of kids out,” Porter said. “This is a very challenging district, so you have to be ready to perform every Friday night.”
Having the season finale against Maplewood on Oct. 28 at home should help the Blue Devils, especially if they are in a position to boost their playoff seeding.
Before diving into region play, however, White House can get off to a good start and not even leave the city limits. Opening against White House Heritage and Goodpasture at Dewey H. Whitson Stadium gives the Blue Devils an opportunity to gain momentum heading into their contest at Portland.
Two of White House’s other non-region games are home contests with Greenbrier (Sept. 9) and Sycamore (Sept. 23), while the Blue Devils visit Page on Oct. 21.
With a couple of region victories, the Blue Devils should be able to return to postseason action, and perhaps start a new streak to build on this season.
Reach Chris Brooks at email@example.com or at 615-575-7118. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @CB_SumnerSports, and on Snapchat @cbrooksgne.
WHITE HOUSE (4-6)
28…vs White House Heritage…7
30…at Macon County…15
3…vs Pearl Cohn…41
Aug. 19 at White House Heritage – 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 Goodpasture – 7:30 p.m.
*Sept. 2 at Portland – 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 Greenbrier – 7:30 p.m.
*Sept. 16 at Springfield – 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 Sycamore – 7:30 p.m.
*Sept. 30 Macon County – 7:30 p.m.
*Oct. 14 at Pearl-Cohn – 7 p.m.
Oct. 21 at Page – 7 p.m.
*Oct. 28 Maplewood – 7:30 p.m.
* – denotes Region 5-4A game