Whiteford coach Jason Mensing believes football should ultimately be a fun activity for kids that can lay the foundation for a successful life.
That philosophy certainly has paid dividends on the gridiron for a Bobcats program that has risen to elite status under Mensing. No. 2-ranked Whiteford (13-0) will play for a state title for the second straight season on Friday.
In six seasons under Mensing, the Bobcats have a 60-13 overall record and have qualified for the playoffs every year. Whiteford is 14-5 in the postseason, reaching the state semifinals in 2015 and finishing runner-up in 2016 with a return trip to Ford Field in Detroit this season.
Whiteford head coach Jason Mensing talks with quarterback Thomas Eitniear during a game this year. Mensing has been named The Blade's coach of the year.
For all of these accomplishments, Mensing has been named The Blade's coach of the year.
“My initial philosophy is to No. 1 make football a fun experience for kids,” Mensing said. “In my mind, it's about understanding that these are kids playing games. We let them be kids and act like kids at times. But it's a balancing act. We want to be stringent on some things and loose on others. We don't want them to be overwhelmed or stressed about playing football; we want them to relax and improve so that they want to be there.”
Mensing said he does not believe in dictatorships, and strives to make the kids self-motivated.
“In addition to that, the process and purpose of this game is to teach leadership and skills,” Mensing said. “We want these kids to be selfless. We want them to build strong character so that they grow into adults who influence and help others. We want them to have a positive impact on society and have productive careers. It's not just about winning and losing.”
But winning and having fun have gone hand in hand at Whiteford under Mensing. This year the Bobcats have not only won every game, they've done it in convincing fashion. They have outscored foes 695-162 this year (53.5 to 12.5 per game).
The Bobcats will play Saginaw Nouvel Catholic (13-0) for the Division 8 state title at 10 a.m. Friday at Ford Field, where they lost last year to Muskegon Catholic Central.
Whiteford is one of just four teams in the area still playing in the postseason. Central Catholic coach Greg Dempsey, Eastwood coach Craig Rutherford, and Liberty-Benton coach Tim Nichols have also led their teams to the state final four in Ohio.
Those three coaches were contenders for the coach of the year award along with Anthony Wayne's Andy Brungard, Archbold's David Dominique, Gibsonburg's Steve Reser, Northview's Doug Downing, and Whitmer's Ken Winters.
“It's a tremendous honor,” Mensing said. “I truly appreciate it.”
Whiteford head coach Jason Mensing congratulates Mathew Taylor (84) during the Bobcats' regional championship win. The Bobcats are 13-0 and in the state championship game for the second year in a row.
Whiteford has captured back-to-back Tri-County Conference titles under Mensing, who hasn't had a losing record in his first five seasons at Whiteford.
His Bobcats posted a signature win on Saturday with a 50-21 romp over a highly successful Mendon program.
“It was a fantastic win. It was a great day,” Mensing said.
The catalyst for this year's team has been senior quarterback Thomas Eitniear, who has thrown for more than 1,200 yards and rushed for more than 800 and is complemented by running backs Logan Murphy and Zach Bertz.
Under this senior class, the Bobcats have posted the program’s best three-year football stretch ever at 36-4.
“Every team is different,” Mensing said. “Since year one, we've had good players that have been willing to come in and work hard in the offseason. They've been passionate and willing to be tough and physical. Those things are as important as how big and fast they are.”
Whiteford had experienced plenty of success under longtime coach Jack Luettke, who stepped down in 2009 after leading the Bobcats for 29 seasons (157-119 record and 12 playoff appearances). But Whiteford went 5-4 and then 4-5 the next two years before Mensing took over in 2012.
“It wasn't in a terrible state, but the numbers were low,” Mensing said.
With just 17 players on the varsity in his first season, Mensing led the Bobcats to an 8-2 record.
“They were tough, hard-working guys,” Mensing said. “That year generated excitement in the school and got the numbers up.”
Since then, Whiteford has gone 9-3, 7-4, 10-3, 13-1, and 13-0 with three straight trips to the final four.
“To play for championships is really special,” Mensing said. “Most kids don't get that opportunity very often. It's great for the kids, their parents, and the community. It's a big thing here. With a high level of success, everyone wants to be part of it. And we welcome everyone and encourage inclusiveness.”
Mensing credits his coaching staff of 10 assistants, many of whom have been head coaches at other schools.
“We have an unbelievable staff,” he said. “They've all been in leadership positions, so that has a huge impact.”
Mensing, a former offensive lineman who played at Tecumseh High School and Adrian College, is the director of student advancement for Whiteford schools. He started out his coaching career at the University of Michigan as an assistant strength coach. He then was an assistant at Adrian College and then was head coach at Addison, Grayling, Owosso, and Tecumseh high schools.
“There is joy in competition,” Mensing said. “When you win it's an opportunity to build confidence, and when you lose it's an opportunity to learn and grow. I enjoy the process of bringing people together. I like to be inclusive. That is the beauty of small schools. There's camaraderie here. The aspect of leadership that I've enjoyed is having a vision and a philosophy, working on a common plan, and getting others to buy in.”
ALL-BLADE COACHES OF THE YEAR
1995: Tim Hale, North Baltimore
1996: Bill Inselmann, Patrick Henry
1997: Cliff Hite, Findlay
1998: Eric Keller, Northview
1999: Craig Smith, Anthony Wayne
2000: Rex Lingruen, Liberty Center
2001: Mike Vicars, Delta
2002: Jerry Rutherford, Eastwood
2003: Ron Estes, Blissfield
2004: Scott Garlock, Liberty-Benton
2005: Greg Dempsey, Central Catholic
2006: Gary Quisno, Oak Harbor
2007: Mike Vicars, Genoa
2008: Jim Mayzes, Southview
2009: Dick Cromwell, St. Francis
2010: Jeff Wood, Bedford
2011: Mark Ritzler, Findlay
2012: Jerry Bell, Whitmer
2013: Kevin Kline, Bryan
2014: Matt Kregel, Perrysburg
2015: Tyson Harder, Start
2016: Bill Inselmann, Patrick Henry
2017: Jason Mensing, Whiteford
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