WHITEHALL – Alec Pruett may have it tougher at Whitehall’s football practices than he ever will in a game.
And don’t get started on his wrestling practices, where all-state grapplers Pruett, Nick Blanchard and Max Brown have been known to tangle.
“You should have been here yesterday (at football practice) — you could have seen bloodshed,” Blanchard quipped, referring to an intense day last week.
Speaking of intensity, “Battle for the Bell” week is here, which means arch-rivals Whitehall and Montague are set to renew a bitter rivalry that spans a century. On top of playing for “The Bell,” this game features conference-title implications. Emotions are sure to be high, but you may not find a more level-headed competitor than Pruett.
The 5-foot-8, 175-pound senior running back is enjoying a breakout season with 1,193 yards and 13 touchdowns in seven games for the Vikings (6-1 overall, 4-1 West Michigan Conference). He’s averaging 10.7 yards per carry and he’s produced seven 100-yard efforts in as many contests with the most important game thus far coming at home against the Division 6 fifth-ranked Wildcats (6-1, 5-0) at 7 p.m. this Friday.
Pruett is coming off his two biggest performances of the season, too. In a 49-0 homecoming victory over Ludington two weeks ago, he erupted for a career-high 308 yards on 18 carries with two TDs. In last week’s 46-6 win at Hart, he ran 20 times for 193 yards and three scores.
Photos by Cody Ottinger and Scott DeCamp | CatchMark
“The thing that I don’t think people really give him credit (for) is his balance. I mean, it’s amazing,” Whitehall coach Tony Sigmon said, speaking to Pruett’s low center of gravity. “There’s people that fall off of him as they try to tackle him – they have the angles; you know, their pad level is good – it’s just the way he’s able to run.
“He reminds me of some of the great running backs we’ve had. He definitely possesses that and I think that’s something people maybe take for granted a little bit.”
Pruett turned in a solid campaign in his first varsity season in 2020 – two years removed from the ACL injury he suffered in his right knee as a freshman in his initial high school game. Last fall, Pruett rushed for 808 yards and 17 TDs while he averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
No. 22 has been option No. 1 in Whitehall’s rushing attack the past two seasons, but the son of Crystal and Nick Pruett always puts his teammates first.
“In my eyes, I just think we wouldn’t win any football games if I was the only one out there. I wouldn’t rush for any yards if my line wasn’t blocking for me,” he said. “It’s not really me – football’s a team sport for a reason.”
Pruett’s right. He’s not the only good player on Whitehall’s football team, which is No. 4 in The Associated Press’ latest Division 4 rankings.
The other Vikings standouts do tend to share a common link with Pruett, however: Many of them are wrestlers, who understand leverage, balance and hip movement, in addition to knowing how to dig a little deeper and exhibit mental toughness.
Among them are Blanchard, a senior linebacker, and Brown, a senior safety. Not only have they had their battles with Pruett on the wrestling mat, they know how to push his buttons during football practice. Because Blanchard and Brown are primarily defense-only players and Pruett focuses on offense, they’ll have their share of encounters.
“I think me and Max can kind of get under Alec’s skin better than any other team, any other opponent or anybody else we might play,” Blanchard said. “Just because, well, one we know him well and, two, we just know (what ticks him off).”
As iron sharpens iron, so have Pruett and Blanchard through wrestling. In fact, the two went head-to-head in two state-tournament matches last winter at the 152-pound weight class. In the Division 3 state semifinals at Wings Event Center in Kalamazoo, Blanchard edged Pruett, 3-2. In the regional semifinals, Blanchard beat Pruett, 3-1.
Blanchard placed second in the state in the weight class, while Pruett finished sixth as both earned all-state accolades. Brown won a state championship at 140 pounds, joining teammate Ira Jenkins (215) atop the medal stand.
“We push each other really hard. At practice, it’s always really competitive,” Pruett said about the workouts with Blanchard. “Practices are more fun when they’re real competitive. In wrestling, we push each other really hard. We’re up in the wrestling room every day, grinding it out, and it’s fun.
“The group of guys we have this year (in football), we’re all super-competitive and really love the game and it makes practices a lot more fun. … I don’t think I’ve ever really run Nick over before, but I’ve given him a couple good ones and he’s given me a whole bunch of good ones. It goes back and forth, but it’s fun.”
Pruett has become a high-performing athlete in football and wrestling, even though he didn’t begin playing those sports until seventh grade.
Sigmon believes Pruett is grateful for his teammates, that he gained a healthy perspective when he suffered the knee injury as a freshman.
While Pruett carries a 3.43 GPA and he’s considering playing football in college, he is trying to stay focused on the task at hand. This week, the prize is simple: Bringing “The Bell” back to Whitehall after it has been with Montague for the last six years.
Last year’s game was an instant classic, won by the Wildcats 34-31 in double-overtime.
“It was really intense. It was a lot of fun. It was hard – those kids were good last year; they’re good this year again, and it will be another really good game. Last year was a nail-biter and we’re hoping it’s close again. It’s always a fun game, but those guys are tough,” Pruett said.
“The rivalry, it runs deep. I just don’t like Montague, never have, and we’re hoping to come out with the big win. It’s always a big week – chirping a little bit here and there. It’s fun, and it will be a big game. We’ve been dreaming about this since we were little – conference title against Montague at home. It’s going to be a big game. We’re all really hyped up.”
/ 17 hours ago
Take a trip around the league in Week 5.
/ 18 hours ago
Orioles wipe out 14-0 halftime deficit to post 34-14 win in their home opener.
/ 20 hours ago
Watch livestream replay and see photos, video and details as Norsemen post fourth straight...