Prep football: Madison’s Whiteman strives for career-ending state title

MADISON TWP. — Mason Whiteman has plenty of motivation as Madison High School’s football team continues its quest for the Division V state championship.

He’s got a double round of bad memories from last year’s 15-10 state semifinal loss to Wheelersburg. Not only did he have to suffer the pain of losing, he also suffered a thumb injury that lingered for months.

And now, as the 12-0 Mohawks prepare to meet 11-1 Wheelersburg again in the Region 20 final at Hilliard Darby on Saturday night, the senior quarterback/cornerback knows his football career is just about over.

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“For some of us, this is it,” Whiteman said. “Every week when I talk to my friends, I say, ‘This could be the last week we play football.’ I think we all understand it. That’s why we’re so focused. It means a lot to everybody.”

Basketball season is on the horizon, and Whiteman will be back on the court as a point guard. But he doesn’t plan to play sports in college. Whiteman said he’s “probably” headed to Miami University to study nursing.

He likes basketball, yet said it doesn’t compare to football.

“I love football way more than basketball,” Whiteman said. “The atmosphere is better. There’s no other feeling like a Friday night football game. I know that’s so cliche, but it’s just the truth. Basketball is fun, but when you go in that football locker room, it’s a brotherhood. When you go into a basketball locker room, it’s just not the same.

“I feel like every kid growing up playing sports has dreams and aspirations to play college ball, whether it be football, basketball, baseball, anything. As you get to junior high, you’re thinking, ‘I can play sports in college for free and go D-I.’ But as you grow up and mature, you realize that there’s more to life than just sports. You have to pick an occupation and figure out what’s going to be best for you in the long term.”

The thumb on his right (throwing) hand is fine these days, but that was a long process. Whiteman got hurt early in the fourth quarter of last year’s Wheelersburg game.

He had boomed a 62-yard punt, but a penalty forced Madison to replay the down. Whiteman then mishandled the snap and ran with the ball. He didn’t get the first down.

“It was a good snap. I just fumbled it,” Whiteman said. “When I looked up, I saw the ends rushing on the sides, so I decided to run it. When I ran, I veered to the left, and as I was running, a kid hit me on the sideline and my thumb just popped out of place.

“It hurt a little bit. I remember standing up, and I was looking at their sideline and it was popped out. They were all looking at me googly-eyed. I just popped it right back into place and ran to get it taped up. I tried to keep playing quarterback, but I couldn’t grip the ball.”

Whiteman actually ended up catching a pass from Reid Davis, who had to come in at quarterback. It was the only completion of the night for the Mohawks.

Whiteman’s thumb didn’t require surgery. Indeed, he just got it splinted and “toughed through it.” But he said it didn’t start feeling truly normal again until his 2018 football work began.

“I’d say about three weeks into football,” Whiteman said. “It was still a little tender in summer lifts.”

Madison still runs the ball most of the time in the Wing-T, but the passing game has been elevated a bit this year. Whiteman was 17-of-43 for 293 yards and four touchdowns with six interceptions in 2017 — he’s 29-of-48 for 523 yards and nine TDs with four picks this year.

Whiteman feels more confident in his throwing. He admitted that he didn’t feel comfortable last year when the Mohawks needed to put the ball in the air.

“I wasn’t used to the atmosphere, but I’m learning to play that role,” Whiteman said. “I feel like I definitely have developed as a passer a little bit more. I believe I can complete passes. But it’s all the line. Whenever I do well, it’s because of them. If the line doesn’t do their job, it’s hard for me to do mine.”

Regardless, don’t look for the Mohawks to become an aerial machine. It’s just not in the DNA of Madison coach Steve Poff.

“There’s been very few times we’ve won a game and passed the ball 10 times,” Poff said. “We’ve tried to be more selective when we’re passing. You can’t wait for third-and-15 to pass every time. They’re not biting on the play-action at that point.

“Mason’s definitely been way more efficient this year than any of the quarterbacks in the years I’ve been here. With less opportunities, he’s made just as much happen. He’s so dynamic with his feet, and his decision-making at the line of scrimmage is outstanding.”

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