DURANT, Iowa — Greg White is pretty clear about the type of football program he wants to establish at Durant High School.
The Wildcats former junior varsity coach and varsity offensive assistant since 2006 takes over the program from Casey Bouska this season and plans to develop an all-encompassing, third through 12th grade program that the community can rally around.
An ambitious philosophy, White’s plans have been tested immediately in the face of tragedy.
Gavin Blake, a sophomore running back, tragically lost his father as fall practice got underway. Less than a week into the season, White faced a situation that was much bigger than football. He didn’t blink.
He wanted to make sure Blake knew what it meant to be part of his program, so he loaded up his players and took them to be with one of their teammates in his time of need.
“We’re gonna make sure we don’t leave anybody behind. If we lose a practice because of it on Monday [Aug. 19], I don’t care,” White said. “That comes first for us. All of our captains and everybody, they’re all on the same page.”
White, who is the fifth Wildcats coach in the past six years, has taken several steps to ensure his players have pride in their program. They’ve gotten new game and practice jerseys and newer, safer equipment.
But for all he’s done off the field, White inherits a team that lost several key players from last season’s 3-6 squad and has a roster of just 42 players.
While the losses affect both sides of the ball, with most players seeing snaps on both offense and defense, the Wildcats offense will begin anew with fresh faces in several key positions, including most of the offensive line.
Among the other key positions the Wildcats need to fill is quarterback, where two players competed for the job during the offseason: senior Alex Rouse and sophomore Will Bentley.
“They’re both doing an unbelievable job,” White said. “It’s gonna be a tough decision when that time comes but going into the season with two quarterbacks, that’s a pretty good thing for me.”
The new signal callers will be learning a new offense, one that will feature multiple schemes, everything from a flexbone set to the spread.
With playmakers like returning senior running back Wyatt Hemle, who is the lone skill player with experience after rushing for 340 yards a year ago, and newcomer and junior receiver, Alik Lorenz, who has White excited with his big frame and outstanding hands, the idea is to make the offense dynamic.
“We’re gonna force defenses, hopefully, to make choices,” White said. “We don’t care what choice they make. We got something for the other choice.”
Similar sentiments have been taken into consideration for the defensive side of the ball. White and his coaches have installed a 3-5 base defense to take advantage of some athleticism they have in the linebacker corps, including Jay Randolph, who led the team with 85 tackles last season.
“We want to play downhill. We don’t want our kids thinking,” he said. “We want them tackling the guy with the football and in a situation where they can be most successful.”
So far, things have gone pretty well for White.
There are issues, though. Depth is the biggest. And, of course, there is the competition from Alburnette, Clayton Ridge and Maquoketa Valley in Class 1A District 5 plus a tough non-district slate.
That’s why what constitutes a win for this team may vary from week-to-week as the new coach looks to lay the foundation for what he hopes is the beginning of new era of Durant football.
“We look at it as a process. We need to find victories within victories. Sometimes that may be a first down. Sometimes that may be a win,” White said. “If we win the state title this year or go 0-9, it doesn’t matter. We got the program we know [is] gonna compete. It’s a program that everybody’s proud [of].”