By Andrew Johnson

HESPERIA – The Hesperia football team is off to a rough 0-3 start.

Two of those losses were particularly difficult, coming in overtime against a pair of good teams – North Muskegon (28-27) and Morley-Stanwood (22-14).

But the Panthers are not ready to give up on their season, because they know they have the talent to compete, starting with senior running backs Kanin Witte and Gerrit Yates.

The two standout backs will lead Hesperia into Holton on Friday in the latest edition of the M-120 neighborhood rivalry. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

Yates finished just shy of 1,000 rushing yards in 2016, and Yates was close to 800 yards.

This year they’ve picked up where they left off. Witte has 363 yards and three touchdowns on 67 carries for a 5.2-yard average. Yates has 250 yards and three touchdowns on 48 carries for a 5.2 average.

Both were outstanding last week in the OT loss to Morley-Stanwood. Witte led the way with 111 yards on 25 carries, while Yates had 85 yards on 19 carries.

Gerrit Yates finds room against North Muskegon during the Panthers’ Week 1 game. Photo/Leo Valdez

The two backs have similar statistics, but head coach Doug Bolles says they’re different in their strengths and styles.

“Kanin can read and hit holes better,” Bolles said. “Gerrit hits the seam quicker when he finds it. and is more explosive. Kanin is a bit more punishing, while Gerrit is more get out and go.”

Bolles said Witte and Yates are very similar when it comes to leadership.

“They’ve both always been winners,” he said. “I can talk to them as leaders, and they take on the role of passing it down to the rest of the team. It’s my second year here, and I feel blessed to have these kids as leaders, and they’re both really good students.”

Having two great runners in the same backfield can sometimes lead to heated rivalry, and even petty jealousy. But Witte and Yates say that’s never been the case with them.

“We’ve always been real tight,” Witte said. “We’ve always been close since we were knee high to grasshoppers. We push each other to be better for the program, and we’re competitive (with each other), but we always talk it out to make sure we’re good.”

Yates and Witte played together from the first- through seventh-grades, before Yates gave up football until his sophomore year.

Kanin Witte makes a rush up the middle for Hesperia. Photo/Leo Valdez

“I call it a brotherhood,” Yates said. “We’ve been tight since we were little, and it’s great having him in the backfield with me. When I run, I know he’ll pick up the lead block for me, and he’s kind of a security for me to not get hit as hard.”

Both players said the tough start to the season has been difficult, but they’re excited to take on rival Holton this Friday in hopes of finding their first win.

“I’m very excited,” said Witte. “Even though our record doesn’t show it, we’re going to come out blazing and ready to go.”

Yates said if they had to win only one game all year, he’d like it to be versus Holton.

“I can’t even put it into words,” he said. “This is the one team we have to beat this year. If I had to beat one team that’d be it. They don’t like us and we don’t like them. It’s always fun to play them.”

While Yates and Witte are both hopeful that a win may springboard the team, they know they would probably have to win all six remaining games to qualify for the state playoffs.

“That comes with a lot of pressure,” said Yates about the need to win out. “Us seniors have to step up, because we’re only guaranteed another six games.”