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Coach Whitehead inspires one more time

Coach Dave Whitehead gives one last pep talk to the team. Photo by Wendi Reardon (click for larger version)
October 27, 2010 - The football players kneeled around Coach Dave Whitehead for the last time after they finished their freshman season against Lake Orion last Thursday.

Whitehead looked at the boys and gave them his last pep talk in his coaching career.

"It seemed like a good time to finish my career," said Whitehead, after 24 seasons as the head coach for the freshman football team.

He retired from the grounds and maintenance department for Clarkston Community Schools last June and is getting plans together to build a home in Kalkaska, Mich.

Another reason for retiring he has multiple sclerosis.

"It is not the main reason," he said, adding it has slowed him down in the last seven years since he found out he had it.

With medication and his doctor's help, he has it under control and only walks with a limp.

"I told my doctor I was never going to be in a wheelchair," Whitehead said. "My doctor said that is the spirit to have."

Whitehead has spent his entire life in Clarkston and attended Clarkston schools from Kindergarten to the day he graduated from high school.

While teaching freshmen and getting them ready for the next step in their football career, he showed them the Clarkston way, since he had also played as a Wolf.

"I enjoyed a good high school career," he remembered. "I was going to play for Adrian College but things didn't work out."

Instead he joined the Navy and found himself on the Navy football team in an overseas league.

"I have always been in love with the game and played whenever I could," he said.

When he came back, he went to college for awhile before getting a job as a custodian in the district.

He found himself going to Sashabaw Junior High School watching football practices. His friend, Kurt Richardson, head varsity football coach, asked if Whitehead was interested in coaching.

"I said if I had an opportunity through my job, which was at nights, if I went to the day shift, I would be interested," he said.

A day position did open and Whitehead happily stepped in to lead the freshman team.

"I have always loved getting them ready for the next level," he said. "I really love the age group and it fit for me."

As he has gotten them ready for playing for the JV, varsity and possibly college, Whitehead has prepared them for life.

"I like to associate the game of football with the game of life," he said. "I hope I have given them enough encouragement and positive information for them to move up the ladder. I know that was always important to me through my coaches."

He finished this season with a 7-1-1 record, putting his overall record at 112-45-1.

"It was a great season," he said. "This group of freshman is really going to help Clarkston football. These guys have their priorities straight. They are good students and citizens. I really enjoyed being a part of the team this year."

His coaching continues as he added one more lesson for players coming into the freshman and high school teams to think about priorities and don't let hurdles get in their way.

"We had seven wins, but we lost to Lake Orion and tied with Troy-Athens, we had to be content with," Whitehead said. "There is always something you have to be content with. You have to do it and keep on moving."

He leaves with a lot of memories including coaching the kids, including his son, Jeff, as well as working with his coaching staff, Richardson, and Athletic Director Dan Fife.

"Dan and Kurt have been a great influence on me and helped me over the years," he said. "Those two are examples of the way things should be."

Another thrill was meeting University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban last spring during a trip Richardson had set up for Whitehead.

"One of the coaches had mentioned to Coach Saban I was retiring," said Whitehead. "He said 'you are too young to retire. What are you going to do?' I said, 'fish.'"

Whitehead laughed remembering Saban's response. "He said 'I can still coach and fish.'"

He admitted he owes a lot to his career to his wife, Ellen, who not only supported him but helped out with statistics and video.

Besides fishing, he will use his retirement spending time with family and his new grandson.

Wendi graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in communications. She wrote for the Michigan Times college paper and Grand Blanc View before joining The Clarkston News in October 2007.
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