LAKEVIEW — A year ago, the Lakeview Wildcats fell one win shy of an automatic berth into the Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) football playoffs.
With one week remaining this season, the Wildcats won’t have to worry about their week nine result in the same manner. With last weeks 42-8 win at home against White Cloud, the Wildcats earned their sixth win of the season and with that the coveted automatic berth into the playoffs.
“The guys have worked really hard since I got here in January. I was just proud for them,” Lakeview coach Sean Rinehart said. “I’ve coached some playoff teams in the south, but these kids have never experienced that. So to get that opportunity to experience this and hopefully do something with it is pretty exciting.”
Rinehart, who previously coached in North Carolina, brings an energetic approach to coaching and confidence that has been contagious with his team. Rinehart brought experience and a sincere belief his team would be in the playoffs at the end of the season.
Because of those qualities, it didn’t take long for the Wildcats to start believing, as well.
“After we started hitting the weight room and the kids saw the program I wanted to run was going to make them stronger, faster and more athletic, they started believing right away,” Rinehart said. “It’s one of those things where I don’t talked about hoping to make the playoffs. I believed we could and they all believed we could as well and bought into it.”
Lakeview last made the playoffs in 2006 (finished 6-4). They lost 28-0 to Muskegon Oakridge in the first round of the playoffs.
Rinehart credits his senior class. A class that includes players like Garrett Cavednish, Shawn Lindsey, Terry Grieser and Brad Hamlin.
“We have 13 seniors on the team. You can tell they have an agenda they want to accomplish,” Rinehart said. “They have goals they set long before I came to Lakeview. Because they wanted to make the playoffs and do something special we have been able to do this. Without that group this doesn’t happen.”
Heading into week nine last year, the Wildcats needed a win at home against Big Rapids. That did not happen as the Cardinals spoiled their hopes with a 28-14 win.
“They remember the game (Big Rapids) last year and even the Newaygo game this year (21-20 loss),” Rinehart said. “Ever since Newyago, these guys have been focused and have not let anything get in their way of the playoffs.”
This year against Big Rapids (3-5), a win won’t mean making the playoffs or not, but a win could help the Wildcats (6-2) earn a home playoff game.
“I want these seniors to have one more home game this season. We can’t control a whole lot, but we can control how hard we work on the field,” Rinehart said. “That will help us beat a good Big Rapids team this Friday. One of our motivations is getting that home playoff game. A win would help that chance.”
Lakeview and the other 255 playoff teams will find out their first round opponents and locations on Sunday night with the MHSAA football selection show. The show will air on Fox Sports Detroit at 7 p.m.
“We will get the whole team together. Any family members that want to come, we will all watch it together,” Rinehart said.
Now that the playoffs are a given, Rinehart wants his team to do more with the opportunity. He wants the Wildcats to make a playoff run. Rinehart believes it is possible.
“They don’t know what playoff football is about and we’ve talked about playing like a playoff team now,” Rinehart said. “I told them to be excited, celebrate over the weekend, but this week making the playoffs isn’t enough. We have to do something with it. They believe we have a special team and can do some damage in the playoffs.”
Lakeview’s only playoff win came in 2000 with a 21-18 win over Saginaw Swan Valley in the first round. They lost in the second round 27-24 to Shepherd.
Kickoff for Friday’s game at Big Rapids is 7 p.m.