By Mike Mattson
Local Sports Journal
WHITEHALL – Whitehall’s Trip Thommen has some advice for undersized athletes looking to excel in sports:.
“A lot of (kids) say they don’t want to play football because they are too small,” Thommen said. “But if you put in the work in the offseason, you will be able to compete in sports.”
It’s quality advice from the undersized Thommen, who‘s done the hard work and reaped the rewards as a standout running back in Whitehall’s explosive offensive attack.
Thommen, a mere 5-foot-9 and 171 pounds, is on the brink of reaching the 1,000-yard rushing mark in his senior season. His productive ground game has helped power the Vikings’ turnaround under second-year head coach Tony Sigmon.
Whitehall, which finished 1-8 last season, is 6-1 overall and can clinch second place in the West Michigan Conference Friday night – or possibly a share of the league title – with a win against Ravenna (6-1, 5-1).
The Vikings are 5-1 in the league after last week’s 50-22 loss at Oakridge.
Oakridge, 6-0 in the conference, can clinch the outright championship with a win over Mason County Central.
Sigmon said Thommen has been a solid team captain, due to his production on the field and his outstanding work ethic.
“He’s able to do a lot for us,’’ Sigmon said. “Pound for pound, he’s one of our strongest kids. Physically, he’s as gifted as anybody in our program.”
For the record, Trip is Thommen’s nickname. His first name is Harold, the same as his father and grandfather. Hence, Trip is a shortened “triple’’ reference for Harold III.
On the field, Thommen excels in three areas for the Vikings – running back, outside linebacker and leader.
He is best known for his contributions at running back, where he sparks the Vikings’ ground attack.
Thommen has 124 carries for 899 yards (7.3 average) and 12 touchdowns this fall. He averages 128 yards per game and leads the team with 78 points scored.
He has two games to reach the 1,000-yard mark in the regular season, an accomplishment he fell just short of last season.
“For offense, if you are smaller, it makes it kind of easier,” Thommen said. “You must have speed and strength and I think I have that. When I am out there, I think I have to go forward and fight for as many yards as I can get.”
Thommen’s running style? Sigmon said it’s basically a north-south, right-at-you approach.
“He’s definitely a hard downhill runner,” Sigmon said. “I read in the paper after the Montague game that (Montague coach Pat Collins) referred to him as a beast. That is a lot of respect coming from the coach of a rival school.
“He’s a guy that makes people miss,” Sigmon added about Thommen, who wears jersey No. 12. “In the fourth quarter he gets stronger as others get tired. He’s the total package. He’s fast enough for cuts to make people miss and he can run over people too.”
What Sigmon likes best about Thommen this season is his leadership.
“He’s done a better job this year being more vocal,” Sigmon said. “He definitely leads by example. The other kids see that and have respect for him. He’s a leader in school and one of those kids you want to have in your program.”
Thommen also is a talented wrestler at Whitehall. He said wrestling has helped him mentally and physically in football.
“A lot of the same stuff in football is in wrestling, like tackling and takedowns,’’ Thommen said. “And that helps out a lot. Wrestling builds on mental toughness and that helps me in football, going play after play as hard as you can.”
Whitehall has accomplished a lot in its turnaround season. The Vikings have clinched a playoff spot, defeated rival Montague for the first time since 2006, and hurt opponents with an explosive veer offense.
Thommen said the team won’t let last week’s Oakridge loss affect it. In fact, the Vikings plan to use the defeat as motivation for the rest of the season.
“The Oakridge game has relit the flame in us to start working harder for the last two games of the year and the playoffs,” Thommen said.
“We’re just really happy how the season has turned out so far. We’re looking to do some good things at the end. We will stay together as a team and make some things happen.”
Thommen, an outdoor enthusiast who enjoys hunting, fishing and camping, plans to study biology or health sciences in college. Northern Michigan University and Grand Valley State are his top choices for continuing his studies.