Sam Webb: Coach, they say in every sport that it's tougher to repeat than it is to win the first time. Are you finding that to be true thus far?
Thomas Wilcher: “I think it's very very hard to repeat, because the kids still have that perception that they’re still the champions, but it’s new kids though, and they don't understand it’s the last year’s team that one, but the ambience of the championship still covers the whole team. I just think that if the kids can say ‘hey we won, it's time for us to set our own tradition’, the new kids, but sometimes it's kind of hard for them to separate. I think that now, if I can get this team here right now to understand and move forward to the playoffs, we'll do a great job.”
Sam Webb: Now, your team went through some adversity last year. You lost the first game of the season, and you lost to Crockett. They had some setbacks, and they were able to overcome those. Are those guys kind of taking from that experience and applying it this year?
Thomas Wilcher: “I think that's probably what it is. They said ‘we can lose, but when state comes, we have to tighten up so I hope that that is what's going to happen. We’re trying to tweak some things to make it happen better for us like we did last year. I tweaked a couple things to make it better for us. We changed some things up, so hopefully we'll be a lot better when it comes to the state playoffs.”
Sam Webb: Now Coach, David Dawson, he and Michigan kind of parted ways. It’s one of those things where he wanted to get out and take visits, and they have a policy. You had to deal with both sides. Talk me through that process, and how you dealt with it as a coach, and what you told David at the end.
Thomas Wilcher: “I think the most important thing is how Dave wants to live his life, and where Dave wants to live his life, and how his parents see him, and where his mother sees him. She's a single mom right now, so I think that's what's most important to me, because he had a lot of tragedies right now in his lifestyle, and I think the most important thing to me is let the kid be happy, let him do what he wants to do, and I just think a lot of things went on in this kid’s life, and it's just best to let him go and let him do what he wants to do. because the more unhappy he is with the things he's dealing with – and he needs to be in grief counseling too - so there's a lot of stuff going on with them. A lot of people don't know that, so that makes a big difference. Once he gets through the grief counseling, once he starts getting into the recruiting process, he might understand that Michigan probably was his best choice, but right now, there's a lot of things he wants to see; a lot of things he wants to experience; and a lot of things he wants to help to bring back up and uplift him. I really that’s really what it is. He wants to be uplifted right now. He's hurt in football. He doesn't get a chance to play. He's not getting a chance to go out and demonstrate his talents, so there's a lot of things you want to do, but right now he wants to be uplifted, and he's trying to get anything he can to uplift him.”
Sam Webb: So the way you talk, you make it sound like there might be some hope still for him in Michigan. Do you think that – initially I got the impression from talking to you that the ship has sailed, that they have moved completely on. Are you holding out a little hope that maybe some things might rematerialize with them?
Thomas Wilcher: “No. Nothing will materialize. That ship has sailed. That bad boy is gone. If you tried to search for it, it might've just sunk (laughter). It's gone. But you know what, I think the most important with Dave right now, like I said, it's just something to uplift him, get him happy, keep him motivated, keep him happy in school so he can get back on the football field and we can play football.”
Sam Webb: A guy that is still with Michigan is your cornerback Jourdan Lewis. He's a guy that not only is a corner but makes plays for you on special teams, make plays for you at receiver. What kind of improvements have you seen from him? What does he need to get better at?
Thomas Wilcher: “I think he needs to stay focused. His concentration on the football field is not there. You can tell he jerks off and in. He doesn't have the same intensity. It's like they're all satisfied. We've got a lot of Division I players on our football team; they are satisfied; they're fat and happy, but they've got to refocus their attention and say ‘hey, I'm still in high school, I've still got one year’. Some have two years, some have three years, and they have to understand that and they got to do that and they have to re focus Themselves, re-challenge themselves and say I've got to play with Cass Tech right now. I'm not at a college. I'm in high school. I'm going to be here for another two or three years, and I've got to play ball right here. That's what's got to happen right now.”
Sam Webb: Alright now, Damon Webb. I know you told me different things about what he was going to be when he got (to Cass Tech). But even you had to be somewhat surprised by how successful he has been, or have you? Have you been surprised by anything he's done?
Thomas Wilcher: “You know I think that, his father, number one. His father plays a big role, his mother plays a big role, in his life, and he has been pushing him since day one. And I won't say that everything I've done has made a big difference. I think there's some things that Cass Tech has done that have made an impact on his life felt to make it bigger than what it is. The places we have taken him, the places also that he has gone, right now working this program right here, this Adidas camp and all that, with Top Cat and everything, and also with Blackwell. That has helped his life out also. But I think that with us really trying to focus him at defensive back earlier in the season, that's also helped him out a lot. Because he really did change his skills up a lot.”
Sam Webb: You are very close to all of your guys. What do you think are going to be the keys to his recruitment?
Thomas Wilcher: “The key that's going to be in his recruitment is really going to be his parents, his mother and his father, because they are very close. They do everything together, they watch what he does, they're on top of everything he does, and me and the parents, we're always talking, we're always clicking, so it's really his parents. His parents are the key.”
Sam Webb: Now look at the other side of the ball, and you have an array of talented linebackers. I think one of your best linebackers is one of the least talked about, in my opinion, is William White. Just talk to me about how those guys are coming along and what schools are saying to you about them at this point. You can start with whichever one you want to.
Thomas Wilcher: “I think most of the schools in the Big Ten right now see Will White as dominating. He feels the lane, he's a hard hitter, he's a tenacious hitter. You know he brings a lot of thump to the game, and so he's a game changer, if you run a lot of iso and things like that. You see that right now out of him. The most important thing about Will White, he is tenacious. He is a hitter. He is like a blood sucking thirsty leech on the football field, baby. He is ready to take some heads off.”
Sam Webb: Some people say he's small. How big is Will White really?
Thomas Wilcher: “He's like 6;1”, 215-lbs, almost 220-lbs. He trimmed down a lot to play this position, to get his speed up a lot, because we had him playing rush last year. This year he's filling this position up great. He's our number one guy on defense; he's the one we really horn everything into. I mean, Will White is like the predator for us. He lurches the field, he sets up the field, he seeks on the field, he destroys on the field. I like him a lot. He's a big-time player for us.”
Sam Webb: Now tell me about your other linebackers.
Thomas Wilcher: “The other big-time guy we got is Gary.”
Sam Webb: Gary Hosey.
Thomas Wilcher: “Gary Hosey. Gary brings a lot of speed to the field. He's got a lot of people looking at him because he has a lot of athleticism, just like Drake. Drake, who is already committed to Michigan State. He's one of our backup linebackers. He comes to fill in a lot. He has a lot of speed, a lot of athleticism. Once he gets the scheme down pat, he's just going to be just as good as everybody else. But the key thing is about scheming and about trying to do the right things. All the kids all have their own strengths; all the kids have their own weaknesses, but to keep them together, when we get them all together in the state playoff run, hopefully we have it all balanced out.”
Sam Webb: Now is Hosey definitely a linebacker… because he can run the rock too, so are schools looking at him as maybe being a big tailback?
Thomas Wilcher: “Well right now he's a big tailback. He's like 6’1” almost 235-lbs. He runs like a 4.6, he's a big kid. He's vicious. We’re going to start pounding him up inside because he's learning how to square his shoulders up right now. He's learning how to run the inside zone. Once we get him going the right way, he's going to make a big difference for us, but playing linebacker, and playing running back, it's going to help us out a lot.”
Sam Webb: You mentioned your backup linebacker Deon Drake, who also plays some tailback for you; you have an offensive tackle who's going to Michigan State as well. There's a common misconception out of there that your guys won't go to Michigan State. You see two guys this year that are going to Michigan State. You think that silences the critics that often say that?
Thomas Wilcher: “Well, I never ever try to satisfy the critics. All I ever wanted to do was make sure our kids fulfill the prophecy of – everybody going to Michigan schools first, try to send Cass Tech kids to Michigan schools. Make sure our kids are always going to Michigan, stay home, so their parents can watch them. That's the most important things to me. I think the next thing is, making sure our top players do get a chance to go to Michigan, Michigan State; make sure they can go to Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan. That's real important to me, because I think that's where our kids need to be going to, that's where our kids need to be heading. If they can branch out, and they want to go further than that, I respect that too. Because I'm going to take them around the country all summer long before they need to go anywhere to get that exposure.”
Sam Webb: a lot of coaches talk about this program, Sound Mind Sound Body, Max Ex. A lot of coaches have differing views on the importance, the significance, of something like that. A lot of coaches discourage their players from participating in this. Why have you taken a different tactic? Why do you encourage your guys to take part in this program?
Thomas Wilcher: “Well because, you should never have the position that you're trying to hold someone back. Because you never want a kid to come at you and say ‘well coach told me don't do it. Coach said don't do this’. No, you need to have every opportunity you can to go out there and maximize your opportunities. And this right here will maximize your opportunities to do it. If I could take my team who couldn't get on Max Ex and go behind Max Ex, I would do that. I would do whatever it takes to give kids the opportunity to gain a scholarship, and that's how I feel about it. Everything it takes, everything you put into it, maximize your opportunities by getting out there, exploit yourself, selling yourself, see you can get those dollars you need, because everybody wants a scholarship.”
Sam Webb: Now outside of the college aspect and getting recruited, have you seen a tangible improvement in their skill set? Do you see a tangible benefit on the football field from their participation in this program?
Thomas Wilcher: “I think it's a benefit because the kids have the opportunity to play. But I think the skill set still comes back towards the school. Because once a kid goes back to school, his high school, that's the skill set you've got to be able to master and that's what gets you on the football field. And that's where the class comes in with the program. As long as the kids go back to their schools and still function, that makes it good, but when they can't, that's where the downfall is. That's when the coach will be like, you should've been there, you shouldn’t have been here but as long as the kids can balance it out, that's why you need to participate, but go to school and keep going back, keep going back, so you won't lose focus at your high school. Because you lose focus at your high school, you’re done anyway.”
Sam Webb: Last but certainly not least, coach, we know like you said, you've got another state title goal in front of you. What does your team need to do to achieve that goal this year?
Thomas Wilcher: “They need to play together. They need to listen to the coaches, play sound football, under the schematic way of Cass Tech. If we do that right there, no one can beat us. But as long as we come out there, scheme and don't do what we're supposed to do, we can get beat like anybody else. We can be the number one team in the country, we can be right down at the bottom of the barrel with a Mumford or anybody else in the country. I think anything we've got to do, it's just mostly pay attention to what the coach asks them to do, concentrate on what the coach asks them to do and just play football the Cass Tech way and we can be successful.”