Linebacker Dustin Wood practices with his team on Wednesday as Waterford Kettering prepares for Friday's pre-district playoff game at Walled Lake Northern. (Elizabeth Conley / Detroit News)
Waterford — Danny Hubbell weathered the 0-9 season in 2011.
He endured the humiliation in 2012, as schoolmates and teachers gave up before the season was half over.
Now, he has endured the success, as Waterford Kettering is in the playoffs for only the second time in school history (1994).
“Winning is mental,” said Hubbell, Kettering’s quarterback. “People didn’t believe in us. You can talk the talk but you have to walk the walk. And we’re walking the walk.
“I remember my sophomore year people were saying, even some of the teachers, that we were going to be good. We’d make the playoffs. Then we’d get beat bad and they’d say we’re bad. Last year, I had a teacher (who) was explaining how some people lose all hope. You know, kind of like the Kettering football team. That cut deep.”
Kettering won its last three games to move to 6-3 and earn a postseason berth. It travels to Walled Lake Northern (7-2) in a Division 1, Region 2, pre-district matchup at 7 p.m. Friday.
Since 1998, Kettering has had four 0-9 seasons, and twice finished 1-8.
Last season, under new coach Kyle Schultz, Kettering was 2-7.
To most programs, 2-7 is unacceptable. Schultz saw it as something he could build upon.
“I had to learn who my kids were,” Schultz said. “And I started seven sophomores. And we started just three guys who played any meaningful downs.
“What was big is we hired a strength and conditioning coach. That really made a difference. Instead of have 10 or 12 kids in the weight room in the offseason and having those leave early, we had 90.”
Kettering got off on the right foot in the opener, registering a 38-0 victory over South Lyon East.
But that was tempered by a 13-6 loss to South Lyon in Week 2.
That setback, however, turned Kettering’s season around. As disappointing as that loss was, the players did some soul searching and began to take on more responsibility.
“We were expecting to beat South Lyon,” said Linebacker Austin Wood, one of the seven who started last season as a sophomore. “We were too confident going in.
“There was a ton of finger-pointing in that game. We started to work harder in practice that next week.”
The next week, Kettering defeated Walled Lake Central for the first time in history, followed by a victory over White Lake Lakeland for the first time since 1995.
“We knew we had to win out after losing to Northern,” Hubbell said. “Our practices got more intense. People stepped up.
“It just goes to show: If you work hard, it makes you more scared to lose. The fear of losing leads to success. If you don’t care, you’re just wearing that jersey for the girls.”