Whitewater began varsity football in 2004 and has never had a losing season. Still, their first four playoff appearances yielded two first-round wins, and entering last year there was cause for frustration.
Then in 2012 they won their first region championship, got the No. 1 seed from 4-AAAAA and got a taste of playoff life at home, riding a wave to the state semifinals before a 28-14 loss to eventual state champion Gainesville. The Wildcats were one of two teams to hold the Red Elephants under 30 points.
“We’ve always gone in as the number 4 and have to play everybody’s No.1. It helped us a lot finally finish in the No. 1 spot,” said Whitewater coach Amos McCreary. “That’s a big advantage playing at home. Once you start getting there, you always want to do a little better, kids work a little harder.”
While they only have five starters back on each side of the ball, they have capable and experienced players returning in key spots. Quarterback Jay Ashley is back, as is running back Christian Wafford, who primarily played linebacker on defense, amassing over 100 total tackles, and rushed for around 700 yards.
He’ll likely be the featured back in the Wildcats’ offense, and McCreary said his time on defense would probably be curtailed.
Linebacker Colton Clemons, son of former NFL player Charlie Clemons, spearheads the defense. He also compiled more than 100 total tackles. McCreary said one of the points of focus for spring practice is to develop more linebacking help, in part with defensive end Russell Welch to the middle.
The biggest questions could be on the offensive line and in the kicking game. Three-year starter Austin Barnard, who handled both punting and kicking duties, gave the Wildcats a huge advantage, averaging 44 yards per punt and putting approximately 70 percent of his kickoff in the end zone.
“We’ve got to come up with a kicker that can at least come up close to what he did last year,” McCreary said. “He was a big weapon for us.”
Once the season starts, there won’t be any easing into form. The Wildcats start with a road trip to Coffee County, which beat them 41-3 last year and is in the second year under head coach Robby Pruitt. After that, Whitewater could have a very clear picture of how the newer players will fare.
2012 record: 12-2, 4-0 Region 4-AAAAA Division B
Starters returning: 5 offense; 5 defense
Key players lost: RB Kendall Conley, OT Pat Dalton, OG Levi Kerlin, K Austin Barnard
Key players returning: QB Jay Ashley, RB Christian Wafford, LB Colton Clemons
Spring practice dates: April 29-May 10
Schedule: Aug. 23 at Coffee, Sept. 6 Mundy’s Mill, Sept. 13 Fayette County, Sept. 20 Union Grove, Sept. 26 at Forest Park (Southern Crescent), Oct. 4 at Northgate, Oct. 11 at McIntosh, Oct. 18 Creekside, Nov. 1 Starr’s Mill, Nov. 8 Region play-in game.
Outlook: The Wildcats have some holes to fill, including leading rusher Conley, but they’re coming off their first region title. If some new faces pan out, more playoff success could be in store.