Whitehaven High School’s football Tigers are coming off a disappointing 7-4 season in which the team did not win the District Championship for the first time in over a decade.
With a full off-season routine and a return to normalcy after the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, head coach Rodney Saulsberry is doubling down on a long-held philosophy.
“The standard is the standard,” said Saulsberry, meaning that the Tigers will not compromise their goals and will always thrive to being the best.
“Last year for us was disappointing. Winning a state championship is our ultimate goal,” said Saulsberry. “If we don’t achieve that goal, it is a disappointment. We did have success because I saw development with our guys as the season progressed.”
All Shelby County Schools will play a two-day jamboree on August 12 and 13 at Central High School. The Tigers will open their regular season on August 20 against the Overton Wolverines at 7:30 p.m.
Sometimes a father-like figure in the young men’s and at other times a counselor, Saulsberry relishes again having a full off-season program.
“Just being able to go through the entire process. It is about development and building. And when it is disrupted, it causes its challenges,” he said.
“We were able to get back into the weight room, to get our bodies ready for a physical season ahead.”
This summer’s extended heat wave has forced adjustments, with the team practicing later or earlier depending on the weather situation. Overall, it has been another lesson in how to deal with adversity.
Assessing the prospects of this year’s team involves measuring up against the Whitehaven tradition of having great offensive and defensive lines. This season, the offensive line will propel Joe Williams (running back), Kedarius Jones (wide receiver), William Carver (quarterback) and Zerius Short (running back, wide receiver) among others.
The football program has married the track program and with that the football Tigers will use speed as a weapon.
The defense will be led by Demario Smith (defensive back), Short (defensive back), Cody Barker (linebacker) and Rodney Hunter (defensive lineman). Saulsberry and his coaching staff are excited about several of the guys up front.
Before a recent practice, Saulsberry brought in former Lausanne and Naval Academy standout Cameron Kinley to speak to the team about his journey and the difficult road of trying to make a National Football League team.
With so many of Whitehaven’s players eying playing at the next level, Saulsberry has become accustomed to chauffeuring players to colleges for football games and introducing them to college coaches. Helping players secure scholarships comes with the territory.
Notably, linebacker Mahamadou Diarra has committed to play at Alcorn next season and defensive lineman Taylor Burton has multiple offers, including Samford, Tennessee State and SE Missouri.
As in seasons past, Whitehaven’s players will be looking toward “Doughnut Monday,” which amounts to a sweet reward when the team shuts out the opponent the week before.