Wittwer looks to close out career with a state championship

By: Timothy Pontzer | Shelby - Utica News | Published October 23, 2017

 Utica Eisenhower senior quarterback Max Wittwer carries the ball in a contest earlier this season. In three years helming the Ike offense, Wittwer has notched 27 victories and 57 total touchdowns.

Utica Eisenhower senior quarterback Max Wittwer carries the ball in a contest earlier this season. In three years helming the Ike offense, Wittwer has notched 27 victories and 57 total touchdowns.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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SHELBY TOWNSHIP — Last year, Utica Eisenhower enjoyed a highly successful season that saw the Eagles earn a Macomb Area Conference Red Division title and reach the Division 1 state semifinal.

Eight offensive starters graduated from that unit, a group that produced 41.3 points per contest. While many doubted the 2017 version of the Ike offense could match those levels, coach Chris Smith had full faith considering he was returning a talented signal-caller.

“When you bring back your quarterback, it’s worth like eight returning guys,” Smith said with a laugh following an Oct. 18 practice. “If you can have at least one guy return, you always want it to be your quarterback because everything starts there.”

Smith called it a blessing to once again have Max Wittwer under center guiding an offense that is averaging 38.5 points each Friday night. A senior, Wittwer is a three-year starter, which is a rarity, at Eisenhower.

“We don’t have a lot of three-year players come through here let alone at quarterback,” said Smith, who is now in his sixth year at head coach and 21st overall with the program. “I can’t think of one since I’ve been here. It’s a rarity but a real luxury for us.”

While he missed the last two games of the regular season with a knee injury, Wittwer will be healthy and ready for his third straight trip to the playoffs, looking to improve on a career record of 27-5.

“It really is an honor to be the quarterback here, and play for this school and a coaching staff like this,” Wittwer said. “They’ve done so much for me. I’m very thankful for the lessons I’ve learned and the friendships and memories I’ve been able to make.”

Wittwer’s memories include plenty of scoring. In his career, Wittwer has tallied 40 passing touchdowns while adding 17 more on the ground. Despite his nose for the end zone, Wittwer is quick to credit those around him for the sterling numbers.

“My biggest strength are the players and coaches around me,” Wittwer remarked. “They make my job much easier, and I’m happy to go out there and do it for them.”

Smith praised his quarterback’s unselfishness, citing a humble nature as a key to the team’s overall success.

“He never seeks out the spotlight. He’s the type of guy who doesn’t care about who makes the play,” Smith said. “It’s a team sport, and he does a great job of being a leader. His leadership is by far his biggest strength, and he helps bring everyone together. We wouldn’t be where we are the last three years without that.”

After a sophomore campaign that saw Wittwer lead the Eagles to a D-1 district final appearance, the gunslinger has lost a single game in the last two calendar years. The lone loss was a last-second defeat by Detroit Cass Tech in last year’s semifinal, sandwiched between two perfect regular seasons. Cass Tech went on to win the state title.

“(Wittwer) is a winner, and you definitely need someone like him to win in this league,” Smith said. “You can’t do it without a player like him at the position. When he was a sophomore, he was just a little skinny kid, and we didn’t expect him to last the whole year because of all the hits he was taking. But his toughness is unmatched, and he’s proven himself time and time again.”

Overall, Wittwer has registered nearly 5,000 yards of total offense. He has notched 3,630 passing yards and 1,301 rushing yards, high numbers that mean little to either Smith or Wittwer.

“I don’t talk about stats. I don’t post them anywhere because I think it’s important that kids aren’t relying on how many times they touch the ball or how many scores they have,” Smith explained. “All that matters is the score at the end. We’re not here to keep the defense honest; we’re going to take what they give us. Some weeks (Wittwer) may throw for 200 to 300 yards, and some nights he may run for almost 200. It doesn’t matter to him or me as long as we’re putting points up.”

Wittwer shares Smith’s mindset. He doesn’t know any of his personal stats, but can recall the many memorable victories.

“I’ve never cared about the stats. I’ll just do whatever it takes to get the win,” Wittwer remarked. “In 2015, we were the only team to beat Romeo (High) when they won the state title. We’ll always have that on them. Our first win over (Macomb) Dakota in 2016 was special because we had lost six times in a row and we were able to lift that curse. The wins are what feel really good. The stats are just something that happen.”

Wittwer hopes to record several more victories to close out his prep career, starting with a pre-district clash with Utica High Oct. 29. While Ike will technically host the first-round contest, it will take place across the street from Utica’s campus at Swinehart Field, which is shared by the two schools.

Wittwer said the Eagles will take each playoff round one game at a time, but there is a hunger based on last season’s heartbreaking finish to Cass Tech.

“It is unfinished business,” Wittwer said. “I thought we won that game (against Cass Tech). We dominated but came up a little short. We’re working very hard to go back and win that game, and then win at Ford Field to bring this school a much-needed state championship. No question we have the team to do it. I’m privileged to have the keys to the offense, and I promise I’ll give it everything I have.”

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