By Nate Thompson
WHITEHALL – You’ll have to excuse head coach Tony Sigmon for his occasional confusion while watching No. 12 carry the ball for his Whitehall football team.
When senior Josh Thommen carries the ball, he looks like a chip off the old bro – his older brother, Trip Thommen, a 2015 Whitehall graduate who was a star running back.
Trip was 5-foot-9 and 171 pounds in his senior year. Josh is 5-foot-8 and 160 pounds. Like his brother, Josh is a straight-ahead, fearless power runner, despite his small frame.
“I tell you what, there will be times when he’s running the ball, and I’ll forget who I’m watching,” Sigmon said. “I’ll say, ‘Great run, Trip,’ and he’ll reply right back, ‘Thanks, coach. And by the way, my name is Josh.’”
“They’re just so similar in stature and style,” Sigmon added. “But Trip was an honorable mention all-state running back for us his senior year, so that’s a pretty good player to be compared to. At the same time, we want Josh to be his own individual.”
Thommen is well on his way at establishing his own identity, and strengthening the family legacy in football and wrestling at Whitehall.
Unlike a lot of standout running backs at various schools, Thommen doesn’t have to carry the offensive load for Whitehall.
That’s because the Vikings have an abundance of weapons, including quarterback Justin Brown, running back Tylor Russell and slot receiver Terrell Harris, who all pose problems for opposing defenses.
But Thommen was the biggest star last Friday in the Vikings’ biggest victory in quite some time. He rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns in Whitehall’s stunning 28-14 win over defending West Michigan Conference champion Oakridge.
It was the Vikings’ first victory over the Eagles in 18 years, and put them in position to potentially replace Oakridge as conference champs. Their next big challenge will come on Friday, when they host neighborhood rival Montague in a battle for sole possession of first place in the conference.
Whitehall is 3-1 overall, with a season-opening 26-23 loss to undefeated Kelloggsville the only blemish on their record. The Vikings are 3-0 in conference play, with wins over Mason County Central and Hart in Weeks 2 and 3.
Thommen said he was very aware of the importance of beating Oakridge last week, but said he didn’t play any differently than he always does.
“I just kind of play the game of football,” he said. “I don’t think so much about the situation we’re in. When the ball is in my hands I just run hard and do what I’m supposed to do.
“Of course I was excited, but I expect myself to do those sorts of things. I set high standards for myself and work hard so I can meet them.”
Thommen said the entire Viking squad was excited about finally beating Oakridge.
“It was a pretty good feeling, to be able to do that for the Whitehall football program, after not beating them since 1999,” he said. “We kind of made history. I’m glad I got to do that with this team.”
Thommen said his brother Trip, now a Grand Valley State University student and assistant JV football coach at Hudsonville, attends most of his games and lends support and advice throughout the season.
Whitehall was 1-8 in 2013, but thanks in part to Trip Thommen’s 1,000-yard rushing season, the Vikings rebounded with a 9-3 record and a trip to the Division 4 playoffs in 2014.
Like his brother, Thommen said he doesn’t let his small frame dictate his style of running. When it comes to dishing out contact, Thommen said he “looks forward to that.”
“I’d say I’m more of a downhill runner,” he said. “I’m always running forward.
“People say that I run a lot like my brother, and that we look a lot alike. He was a great running back and a great athlete, so it’s an honor to be compared to him. He kind of helped kick off the new era of Whitehall football, and now I’m living the legacy he started.”
Josh Thommen is hoping he and his teammates can maintain their momentum following the big win over Oakridge.
“If we play like that the rest of the season, we feel there aren’t many teams that will be able to beat us,” Thommen said. “We realize we have to play with that same focus on every game day.”
The Vikings had to put the Oakridge victory behind them fast to prepare for their archrival, undefeated Montague, in this Friday’s battle for the Victory Bell. Whitehall was handed a bitter pill by Montague a year ago, losing 41-20..
“It’s about playing for that bell,” Thommen said. “It’s a pride thing. With my class being seniors, we want to make it a priority to go out with a win against them. It’s the kind of thing that lets you walk around town with your head held high. But we try to keep it classy, on both sides.”