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High-school football | Goin’ Camping: Don’t be fooled by first impressions at …


Mark Znidar

The Columbus Dispatch

Thursday August 8, 2013 5:45 AM

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Chris Parker | ThisWeekSports

Hilliard Davidson coach Brian White celebrates with Kyle Payton after a victory over Cleveland Glenville in the 2009 Division I state championship game.

Blindfold football players from other high schools and usher them to a Hilliard Davidson
practice and many would walk away unimpressed with this Team X.

“Not many physically imposing players,” they might say. “Plain uniforms. In fact, they’re
really boring. What, no passing?”

Then they might resort to burying their heads in their smart phones until the bus is ready to

But do the same thing with coaches, and the impressions would be the opposite.

Right away, they would notice the Wildcats run a play almost every 10 seconds between the
first and second teams.

Players run on and off the field, and those not involved in the action do not engage in small
talk, nor do they have hands on hips.

There are only a few interruptions for a coach to run up to a player to make a correction or
give a tip.

It’s not an accident that Davidson won state championships in 2006 and ’09 and has reached at
least the regional championship game in eight of the past nine seasons.

In summation, the Wildcats walk with the big boys such as Cleveland St. Ignatius, Lakewood
St. Edward, Cincinnati St. Xavier, Cincinnati Moeller and Cincinnati Colerain.

“Practice for us is intense,” senior cornerback and receiver Joe Bernard said. “When you come
in here as a freshman and sophomore, it can be intimidating at first. You have to buy into things

It’s not as if coach Brian White, a soft-spoken, but intense guy from DeSales, tries to run
the program like the Navy Seals. Fans might get that impression because he wears shorts on the
sideline no matter the weather, and we’re talking snow, rain and freezing temperatures.

“Oh, yes, Coach is intense, especially on game day,” Bernard said. “But Coach also trusts us.
He’s a nice guy. There’s nothing demeaning out here. He does not tear you down. If he sounds harsh,
a lot of times he’s just kidding or just trying to make a point. You do play hard for him – all of
the coaches. That’s just expected. You don’t play hard, well, you just don’t play.”

The loudest White got during practice on Monday was when he said, “Fire up. Work while you
are out here.” His biggest critique was, “There have been just too many mistakes.”

White has been praised for the way the Wildcats practice, but the frustrating part for him is
that he would love to sneak a peek at other high-school teams he admires.

One coach from a school west of Dayton has followed Davidson practices with a microscope on
two separate occasions.

“Another coach in Cincinnati has a sabbatical every four years where he does not teach,”
White said. “So what does he do? He watches other teams practice. I’d love to do that.  I’d
love to expand my knowledge. Coaching is ongoing education. You always are adding things. You are
always borrowing ideas. It’s never a finished product – never.”

The Wildcats run rapid-fire plays because White wants the players to be ready for the
intensity of Friday night. He also does not want to waste time conditioning. Thus, the number of
plays gets the players their legs.

“Then when the games do come we’re ready for the high tempo,” senior safety and receiver Nick
Stull said. “We always try to keep at pad level – offensively and defensively – to hit them where
they bend. We are taught that everyone has a job. We are one-11th of every single play. You do your
job and things will work out just fine.”

Stull was somewhat self-conscious being praised as the member of a team that does nothing but

“It is high intensity here, but it’s that way just about everywhere,” he said. “We’re just
thinking one game at a time. You try to get better every day because that’s what the other teams
are trying to do. We stay even keel. We never get too high or too low. Coach wants us to stay
consistent. A lot of it deals with breaking things down every day and looking at how we can get

That philosophy was never put to the test more than in 2012, when Davidson lost two of its
first four games and had to win its final six games to get the seventh spot in the playoffs out of
eight teams.

Weeks into the season, White told reporters this was not a great team.

But Davidson took down second-seeded Dublin Coffman, which ripped the Wildcats in the regular
season, in the first round of the playoffs and Olentangy in the second round.

Pickerington North, which was far and away the best team in central Ohio among big schools,
ended Davidson’s run with a 21-0 victory in the regional championship game.

“What happened was we realized that we had to start practicing harder and more efficiently,”
Bernard said. “We were so young. We sure got after it after the Coffman game. All we did was try to
play harder than the other team. It’s also tradition. It’s great to be part of all this. It’s about
respecting your teammates. We can’t be me-first here – not here.”

A lot of people in the community might have considered 2012 to be a below-average season. The
Wildcats have so spoiled the fan base.

What’s stunning is the workplace is Spartan. The practice field wasn’t mowed for the opening
day of practice, and there is a large dip down the middle that resembled a dried-up pond. The
goalposts were rusted.

The grass inside the stadium would be considered awful rough for a public golf course.

White’s “office” is a garage where a tractor used to sit. If he wants air-conditioning, he
pulls up the door. If he wants heat, he’s out of luck.

The home locker room is what visiting teams usually get. It’s so cramped as to be a subway
terminal. Many lockers do not close.

Yet, expectations always are high.

“It’s a double-edged sword for us,” White said. “The good part is the kids go on to the field
expecting to win. They have seen success. The bad part is they can lose sight of that success
because they’ve had so much of it. It’s not easy to just go out there and win every week. I’ll tell
you, that win we had against Coffman in the playoffs was as gratifying as we’ve ever had here.”



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