NEW MANCHESTER, W. Va. - Oak Glen is giving Ian Whittington another chance.
After being suspended for the final four games of the season after a fight following a game against Weir in October, the football coach will be back on the sidelines leading the Golden Bears this season.
"The past is the past," said Whittington. "We can't change what happened. We just need to make sure it doesn't happen again. We tell our kids they are responsible for their actions and the same goes for me. You mess up, you pay the price. You take your punishment and move on. Believe me, watching those last four games from a distance was very hard. These kids are like my family, I'm around them constantly and it was tough not being there for them. What really struck me during my time away was how hard these kids played. After all the injuries and the outside noise, they were still playing hard till the end. We sent some 14 and 15 year-olds to compete against 17- and 18-year-old young men and they didn't quit the battle. They may have had their noses rubbed in it a few times but they never backed down."
The Bears struggled through an 0-10 campaign last season and are hungry to take what they've learned from that experience and move on. Coming into last season Oak Glen was counting on a youthful and untested group of players to learn and grow as the season progressed. The lessons to be learned began quickly, starting when quarterback Chase Hartley went down with a season ending injury during the first game of the season. Speedy Micah Swiger's season ended shortly after that and the Bears coaches found themselves replacing players on a weekly basis.
This coming season, the Bears' fall schedule looks pretty much the same as last year except for the addition of Frankfurt and Tyler Consolidated. Producing a winning season against some very good competition won't be an easy task for the Golden Bear staff when play resumes in August.
The young Bear squad will definitely know what they're up against from the start.
"Confidence," said Whittington. "We've got to build that. Confidence in themselves, their teammates and coaches. They've got to stay hungry and remember what 0-10 felt like. We need to go to work on our conditioning and strength starting right now. When it comes time to put our offense and defense we'll simplify things a little. We start with a clean slate, last year was last year and we can't go back and change that. We need to take the lessons learned and get to work. I think the fact that we had to use so many kids early in the year hurt us. Some of them were playing high school football for the very first time, that itself can be overwhelming. That's all behind them now, they've been in the battles. It all starts right now, in the weight room with conditioning and agility drills. They've got to work hard. We need to stay hungry and remember what we've learned from last year."