Grandville, Mich. — Tears welled up in the eyes of Rockford football players, who had just fallen 20-9 to Grandville in the district championship game.
Parents looked on helplessly from the crowd. What do you do in this situation? Even a young ballboy stood crying next to the locker room as players cycled in and out, seemingly recognizing the finality of the situation.
All but eight playoff teams in Michigan will finish the season with a loss, and even those who don’t might shed some tears. For many, it’s the end of organized football forever. At the least, the makeup of any given team will change immensely over the offseason.
“(This is) probably the tightest-knit group of guys I’ve ever been with in my whole athletic career up until this point,” Whittaker, the Rams’ 6-foot-4, 197-pound starting quarterback, told Land of 10. “We all have each other’s back, and it’s not gonna be the same.”
Certainly other teams won’t endure the same trials as this Rockford team. The majority of the team was afflicted with cryptosporidiosis, a parasitic intestinal disease, during preseason that led to a forfeit in the first game and a loss in the second.
The Rams responded by losing just one game for the rest of the regular season — and avenging that one loss to Hudsonville by beating the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs.
Remtema, who at defensive back seemed to be involved in every play, felt the same camaraderie that Whittaker mentioned. Coming out of the locker room, the 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback wasn’t thrilled by the prospect of speaking to the media, but he toughed it out through his emotions.
“It was fun from August till now,” he said. “I wish it would’ve gone longer, but we gave it all we had. I don’t know. It sucks. It sucks.”
Those two players lead the squad on each side of the ball and will continue to do so as seniors. In fact, they’ll likely play on even farther. Both have picked up considerable interest from MAC schools and Michigan State.
Whittaker, in fact, just visited Michigan State for its last home game against Michigan. He saw a team that played with more toughness than it had in many games prior.
“They showed a great game and played really well and played hard,” Whittaker said. “Obviously Michigan’s a great team, but they showed up. It was good to see (quarterbacks coach Brad) Salem and all the coaching staff. It was great.”
Whittaker, a 3-star pro-style quarterback ranked No. 24 in the nation, holds offers from Central, Eastern and Western Michigan, and he has picked up interest from Indiana and Northwestern. But Michigan State remains high on his list, in part because of the relationship with Salem and offensive line coach Mark Staten.
“I love those guys to death,” he said. “I’m building a closer relationship with them every day, send them a text here and there when I can. I think since the season’s over, it’ll be picking up quite a bit for me, and I’ll be going on more visits.”
Whittaker’s main intention in recruiting has been to make as many connections and build as many relationships as he can. With the season over, he’ll have more time to devote to doing that.
Michigan State will garner a lot of that attention. He talked to Coach Mark Dantonio over the summer at a practice and got the type of feedback that would excite any quarterback.
“He said that they were really close to offering me,” Whittaker said. “Obviously Michigan State, they want to take their time with their quarterbacks. All schools do, really. I’m just being patient with them, and hopefully an offer will come, and I’ll be very grateful for that.”