“Our goal is to always get better each week,” stated Whitko head coach Wayne Swender. “We are going to be pretty young, but we always have the same expectations.”
While the team managed just a 6-5 overall record in 2011, the Wildcats won a sectional game against Fort Wayne Concordia, its first tournament win in three years. At the command for now a third year under center is quarterback Alex Stoddard, who is the linchpin of the Whitko offense. Stoddard, who leads the run-first, ask questions later game plan, rushed for 472 yards on 123 carries as a junior, but also threw for a respectable 1,201 yards and accounted for 15 total touchdowns.
“Alex has been a leader for us,” the fifth-year head coach of the Wildcats stated. “He has done it by example, both on the field and in the classroom. He has a good sense about himself. The kids really rally around him.”
The running game will hold a lot of questions, as Swender couldn’t pin down anyone specific other than senior Conner Stouder who could lead the rushing attack. Seniors Ian Pherigo and Michael Carroll are also listed at running back and could help the ground game.
Stoddard will have a pair of big targets to throw the ball when the Wildcats decide to pass in 6’6″ senior Stephen Bennett and 6’0″ sophomore ack Snep. Whitko averaged over 100 yards a game passing the ball last fall, and the presence of Bennett outside could force defenses hands.
The offensive line should help get that running game going, with four major returners up front in seniors Joey Bowers, Josh Kessie, Schyler Fugate and Ryan Weigold.
Senior kicker Jake Nissley holds the school record with a 40-yard field goal and was 29-31 on extra points last season.
Defensively, Whitko could struggle out of the gate with the likes of Wawasee and Columbia City on the schedule in the first two weeks. Just three return to the defensive side of the ball, with Stouder, Stoddard and Fugate being the lone experienced horses. But as the season wears on in an increasingly tough Three Rivers Conference, have two-way players anchoring a defense could be a tricky proposition.
“We are going to try to mix things up offensively to keep defenses honest, establish the run as much as we can,” Swender said. “And we will have to rely on that defense. The tradition is still there. It’s time to rely on some of the younger kids to step up and help us at the varsity level.”
Swender looks to the neighbors to the west in Tippecanoe Valley as the early favorites in the TRC, and feels they present a good mark to target.
“There are going to be some good teams in our conference again,” Swender said. “Teams keep getting better each year with their programs, and we have to do the same to keep up. Tippy Valley had a lot of success last year and they bring a lot of kids back. They are the ones everyone is looking at.
“For us, we have to play hard, practice hard. To keep pace, we have to keep getting better.”
2012 Whitko Football Schedule
Aug. 17 v. Wawasee
Aug. 24 v. Columbia City
Aug. 31 v. Southwood
Sept. 7 at Manchester
Sept. 14 v. Wabash
Sept. 21 at Northfield
Sept. 28 v. North Miami
Oct. 5 at Rochester
Oct. 12 at Tippecanoe Valley
Oct. 19 Sectional Round 1