SOUTH WHITLEY – Knowledge and a sense of a pride.
That’s two things that first-year head coach Josh Mohr possesses in great supply about the Whitko football program.
Mohr, a former player and longtime assistant coach for the Wildcats, is now the man steering the ship for the Class 3-A program.
“Knowing the kids and them knowing me is a big advantage,” said Mohr, who replaced Wayne Swender. “For me, there’s a lot of pride being the head coach at the school where I played and have been an assistant. There’s no where I’d rather be.”
Mohr will look for the Wildcats to bounce back after going 4-7 overall and 3-4 in the Three Rivers Conference in 2012. Whitko lost three games by six points or less last year.
“Our expectations are always going to be very high,” said Mohr after a recent practice. “Our theme this year is focus and finish everything we do. I expect our guys to play hard every game for 48 minutes.
“Turnovers were something that hurt us last year and we’re putting a focus on ball security. We’re just trying to get our younger kids up to speed as soon as possible.”
Whitko does boast a very young team with just eight seniors on its roster. A key for the Wildcats, who lost to Jimtown in a second round sectional game last fall, is to find a replacement for quarterback Alex Stoddard. The multi-sport standout, who was a three-year starter at quarterback and a four-year starter at safety, amassed a school record 3,635 yards rushing and passing in his outstanding prep career.
Mohr is looking at senior Ethan Nicodemus and sophomore Brady Weeks to direct the run-oriented offense of the Wildcats. Nicodemus, who played linebacker last season, is expected to be the starter come Friday for the season opener at Wawasee.
“Ethan is the frontrunner right now and there’s a learning curve for him,” said Mohr. “We’re just trying to get him as many reps as possible.”
Whitko does have a prolific punch in the backfield to carry the load this fall. Junior stars Devin Gerding and Tanner Hughes return after stellar sophomore seasons. Gerding, a 6-1, 210-pound tailback, earned All-TRC honors in 2012 with 769 yards rushing on just 97 carries. Hughes, a 5-9, 215-pound fullback, rambled for 726 yards on 156 carries last fall.
“Our backfield is our strength,” said Mohr. “We’re going to run the ball, while at the same time taking what the defense gives us. We have three strong running backs who are all ready to go. I expect Devin and Tanner to be leaders for us.”
Mohr will also have experience up front to count on. Senior Tyler Hinora is back for his third year as a mainstay on the offensive line. Also back are senior Ian Keirn and junior Zach Baughman. The defensive line features seniors Jacob Silveus and Doug Bolinger and junior Connor Zwick.
“I like what I’ve seen in the preseason,” Mohr remarked. “The kids are focused and are working. It’s a fun group to be around because they are a very coachable group.”
Whitko opens the 2013 campaign Friday night at Wawasee. The Wildcats home opener is Sept. 13 versus TRC foe Manchester.