Most coaches will tell you that you can judge the character of a football team by how well its players respond to adversity.

Whitehouse coach Adam Cook has seen a great amount of character out of his team so far in 2016.

The Wildcats lost running back Javian Miles, running back Clayton Cook and quarterback Tanner Roach in consecutive weeks to start the season, but managed to go into Week 4 with a 2-1 record.

Without its starting quarterback, Whitehouse leaned on the arm of Jake Clemons and a strengthened defense to get a 49-31 win over Sulphur Springs and improve to 3-1. Clemons threw four touchdown passes and the defense forced five turnovers in the win.

"It's a testament to the character of these kids," Cook said. "We watched something in the offseason called 'All or Nothing' with the Arizona Cardinals and they have this saying, 'If it's to be, it's up to me,' and that's what we've talked about all year long."

Cook most often used the word "leadership" when talking about this year's Whitehouse team. He said he's seen a major transition from a year ago, when the Wildcats lost their final seven games after starting the season 2-1. Cook said it's been rewarding as a coach to see players step up, especially when injuries are involved.

"We've had guys like Khyree (Key), Javier (Neal), Connor (Clark) and others who have really stepped up for us. It's not easy losing two running backs, but our guys have responded really well," Cook said. "Following our 2013 team, I feel like a lot of our men put a lot of pressure on themselves, and that was probably created by me. I've tried to take that off of them. These guys are hungry. They want to prove they can play football and win some games."

Whitehouse has always owned a reputation of being able to score big points, but the defensive improvement has been more than noticeable in 2016. While the Wildcats allowed 31 points from Sulphur Springs last week, they forced at least four turnovers for the second time this season. Whitehouse surrendered less than 41 points in a game just once in 2015, compared to three games of allowing 23 points or less this year.

"We have a lot of leaders on the defensive side of the ball. They're solid young men over there and they're more mature on that side. That kind of confidence is a big thing," Cook said. "(Defensive coordinator Marcus) Gold came in and we made some changes scheme-wise on that side of the ball and it has the kids playing hard and with a lot of confidence."

Whitehouse will go into Friday night's game against Kennedale with the hope that the defensive momentum will continue. Cook said Kennedale runs the same offensive scheme as district opponent Ennis, which means this week will be a good measuring stick for his defense.

"We're going against a Slot-T that's similar to what Ennis runs, so we'll see how we hold up against the running game," Cook said. "Win, lose or draw we're going to come out of it knowing what we need to work on to get ready for Ennis and the rest of our district."

Roach will also be back on the field Friday, and while backups have stepped up and been successful in Roach's absence, him returning under center will give an already dangerous offense a big boost, Cook said.

"Tanner just adds another dimension to our offense. Jake stepped in and threw the ball very well for us, but Tanner has that explosiveness," Cook said. "He's done a great job managing the game and not forcing decisions. He seems more calm and cool out there than last year."