WHITEHALL – In Gabe Reavey’s mind, the wins and losses from Whitehall’s 2021 football season will fade in time.
It’s the memories and bonds created with teammates during the season and throughout the years that he’ll remember for a lifetime. It’s the jokes and conversations, the scraps during practice and other moments that will continue to bring a smile to the face of the animated and outspoken Vikings senior lineman for years to come.
Whitehall’s season ended in frustrating fashion Friday in a 24-14 loss at Cadillac in a Division 4 district finals matchup. Disappointed as they are, the Vikings created many memories during an 8-3 season punctuated by a 34-14 “Battle for the Bell” victory over rival Montague and highlighted by a share of the West Michigan Conference title for the first time since 1999.
“I’d say it’s more about the relationships that I built and kind of like the family bond that we had on our team,” Reavey said during a visit to the Coaches Corner show Sunday night in the CatchMark studio. “I mean, we’d go to practice every day and it was like either you were fighting with each other like it was your brother or you were joking with each other like it was your brother.
“We were striving for a state championship and, you know, district championship and regional championship. But I think even if we had ended up reaching those goals, that’s not what I would have talked about 20 years down the road from now. I would have been, like, ‘Hey, Shane (Cook) said this in this game,’ and it’s like, I don’t know, there are certain conversations that we had in practice and stuff and jokes, and those are the things that kind of stick out and make it a blast to play football.”
Whitehall coach Tony Sigmon completed his ninth season at the Vikings’ helm. His squad accomplished many things. Among the achievements:
- Capturing a share of the conference title for the first time in 22 years;
- Making the playoffs for the seventh time under Sigmon’s watch;
- Taking on eight playoff teams in 11 games with victories over two opponents still going in the playoffs (Kalamazoo United and Montague) and a losses to two other opponents still playing (Oakridge and Cadillac);
- Featuring a running back, who ran for 100-plus yards in each of the Vikings’ first 10 games. Senior Alec Pruett finished with 1,627 yards and 18 touchdowns on 188 carries, good for an average of 8.7 per attempt.
But the thing that makes Sigmon most proud is how this group of players and coaches overcame adversity.
“When I think about this football team specifically, I think of all the adversity these guys have gone through,” he said. “I know that in some cases, every kid went through it in high school, but as Gabe being a senior, when COVID hit and if you’re a senior this year in any school, that’s really defined your high school experience. All the things that were lost and all the things that were kind of taken away from them, you know, we had to navigate it. I think that part really kind of plays into the story.”
Adversity hit the Vikings well before the season started. They lost two all-state-caliber players in senior defensive end Ira Jenkins, who will be signing to wrestle for the University of Michigan, and junior tight end/H-back/defensive end Graycen Shepherd, a college football prospect who possesses size, strength and speed.
Jenkins (elbow) and Shepherd (knee) were both injured and never played a single snap this season. Yet, the Vikings were able to overcome and become one of the more dominant teams in the Muskegon area this fall.
“I think it was also a tough blow,” Sigmon said. “What makes this group special is, yes, we were able to have a share of the conference championship. This is the first time we’ve won a playoff game on the road and that’s a hurdle – that’s a big hurdle.
“These guys, over the last two years, they’re 15-5 and that’s an excellent record that a lot of people would really want to have and cherish that and we do,” Sigmon continued. “But to see all the adversity they went through with the loss of teammates, the COVID piece, all of it, it really allows you to have a certain appreciation for how well-rounded these guys really are and how mature they are and what kind of people they are, because that’s a lot to overcome.”
If Reavey had to pick one highlight from the season, then it would have to be Whitehall’s win over Montague in Week 8 in the Vikings’ packed stadium with so much riding on the game.
It was the first time in seven years that Whitehall has wrestled the bell back from the neighboring rival. Reavey and the Vikings certainly savored the achievement.
“I had like a perma-grin – for like the whole weekend, the whole next week, I couldn’t stop smiling. I was just having a blast,” Reavey said. “The whole next week of practice, we were just having the time of our lives. We just did that, we just completed one of our biggest goals of the year and let’s go get our next one.
“I think that game is going to be one of the games that I talk about for the rest of my life.”
If you haven’t already, watch the video at the top of this story to relive highlights from Whitehall games covered in person by CatchMark this season.
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