By Kris Freeman for The White House Tribune
WHITE HOUSE – It is a waiting game at White House High School.
Starting one week later than most area teams because of a week zero bye, the Blue Devils and head coach Jeff Porter are beginning the 2013 season against Portland on Aug. 30 looking for leaders and standouts to emerge.
In a revised District 9-AA that now features new rivalries with Cheatham County, Harpeth and White House Heritage, White House is searching for a repeat of the district championship and three straight trips to the Class 4-A quarterfinals.
“We are watching, waiting,” said White House head coach Jeff Porter before his team’s first scrimmage against Goodpasture Aug. 8. “Basically at this point, we are not in a position to waste any days despite the fact that we start later than everyone else.
“We have holes to fill and competition for spots, and we have to know when we walk off the practice field that day that we got better, and some of those questions will get answered in the right time.”
Coming off a 7-6 season that ended with a loss to Liberty Magnet School at home in the Class 4-A third round on a late drive touchdown, White House is searching for a 22nd straight trip to the TSSAA playoffs and 29th in the last 30 years. Porter is one of the longest tenured coaches in the state of Tennessee, entering his 27th season with a record of 230-96.
The 2012-13 senior class sent six players to play college football, lost the entire offensive line to graduation, and saw the departure of the two-time District 9-AA player of the year in tailback Grant Wicker.
Returning are three starters on offense and five on defense. One of those is senior quarterback Ryan Pool. He completed 63-of-122 passes for 810 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for three short yardage scores.
“I don’t think we can answer the question yet about what this is going to look like for us,” Porter explained. “Having Pool back is a plus from the standpoint of 12 games experience and he’s been out there in this situation before.
“But we lost all five guys up front, and you can’t throw the football if you can’t protect, and you can’t run the football if you don’t run block.”
Three-year starter Wesley James, at 6-foot-5, is the tight end, and will shift his defensive position from end to defensive back, called a stud in the Blue Devils 4-2 scheme. James made 68 tackles, 21 for losses, with 12 quarterback hurries last season, catching seven passes for 89 yards on offense.
“I don’t expect anything out of him different than anyone else – to come to work with the attitude to get better and to see leadership come from those upper classmen,” Porter said of his senior. “The defensive position is a transition and we are still in the process, but it will back him off the line of scrimmage and then the formation is going to dictate his alignment.”
Another All-District player for the past two seasons is linebacker Taylor Wood. Some may see the 5-foot-8 senior as undersized, but Wood shows tremendous technique and leadership ability despite it. He is also the team’s fullback and was the leading tackler in 2012.
Wood made 124 stops and rushed for 95 yards and two touchdowns.
“He plays with great technique and just has an incredible passion for the game,” Porter said. “That’s what we are looking for – kids who have a passion for this program and the school and community that supports them.”
Senior Bailey Burns will be the team’s starting tailback and moves from nickel defensive back and safety into the second starting linebacker position. Senior linebacker Lane Spivey shifts to the heavy defensive end slot. Burns was second behind Wicker with 222 yards rushing and third on the team with 72 tackles including nine for losses.
Junior Josh Mullins comes back for his second starting season at corner, but the development of the secondary is always a concern in a high school football environment constantly adapting to spread offense. Mullins joins Pool and James on offense as a returning starter. He caught six passes for 91 yards and made 55 tackles with four passes broken up and three interceptions.
“There is a lot of pressure on the secondary and understanding what the scheme of the opponent is,” Porter noted. “We have to get a good pass rush and do a good job of studying film, but our first priority has to be stopping the run because if we can’t do that, no one is going to bother to throw regardless of the offense.”
Up front, the Blue Devils will turn to 6-foot-1, 275-pound Wyatt Bailey and versatile, 228-pound Corey Cantrell. Playing left tackle and center, respectively, on offense, the two are the rising seniors with the most experience on a brand new offensive line. Cantrell plays defensive end and Bailey defensive tackle.
Three of the six players to play college football at White House this season were linemen, two tackles and the center.
“We still have five or six kids really battling for starting positions and our focus has to be on getting healthy and improving every day, and that’s all over the field,” Porter mentioned. “We just haven’t seen our kids play yet, and we can’t evaluate linemen in 7-on-7 passing league drills, so those guys have just been lining up against each their own teammates. We are just waiting and watching.”
White House opens the season against Portland, and has additional non-district games against Springfield, Lipscomb Academy and Pope John Paul II.
“This is a very balanced district and it’s a whole new set of teams and we have our hands full,” Porter said. “But the way the playoff system is structured, every win is important and we cannot take anything for granted, any Friday night.”