Head coach: Russ Radtke, 67-18 in eighth year at New Prairie and 357-138 in 43rd year overall
Staff: Julio Cisneros, Craig Foerg, Bill Gumm, Jim Schewingendorf, Bo Radtke, Bobby Whitenack, Kenny Eagle, Josh Bolakowski, Jacob Pinter, Ted White.
Last year: 7-4 (3-2 Northern Indiana Conference), lost 42-30 to South Bend St. Joseph in Class 4A Sectional 17 opener
Schedule: Aug. 23, at La Porte, 7; Aug. 30, South Bend Clay, 6:30; Sept. 6, Andrean, 7; Sept. 13, South Bend St. Joseph*, 6:30; Sept. 20, at Mishawaka*, 6:30; Sept. 27, at South Bend Adams*, 6:30; Oct. 4, Penn*, 6:30; Oct. 11, at South Bend Riley, 6:30; Oct. 18, at Elkhart Central*, 6:30. * — NIC game.
Returning starters: 10 (7 offense, 3 defense)
Base formations: Flex bone/Pistol offense, 4-4 defense
Key losses: WR-DB Cade Boniface, RB-DB Danny Tyler, OL-DL Kyle Weber, OL-DL Connor Surber, LB Dylan Rose, DB Michael Klemczak, TE-DL Jacob Tuttle
Key returners: Chase Ketterer, Sr., QB-DB (36-55-1 passing, 683 yards, 7 TD; 242-1,602 rushing, 21 TD; Chris Mays, Sr., RB (118-931 rushing, 14 TD/7 games); Hunter Whitenack, So., OT; Chris McGrew, Jr., OT; Ian Skornog, Jr., QB-DB (64-418 rushing, 5 TD; 43 tackles); Bryant Schultz, Sr., OL; Tyler Graeber, Sr., DB (25 tackles); Taylor Adams, Sr., LB (62 tackles); Jackson Hakes, Sr., LB; Bobby Siford, Jr., LB; Evan Foerg, Sr., TE; Nolan Szymanski, Sr., K (43-48 PAT).
Key newcomers: Wyatt Kmiecik, Sr., WR; Kaleb Lewandoski, Sr., WR; Zach Borror, Sr., OL.
Outlook: With Whitenack, McGrew and Borror, New Prairie has three offensive linemen who weigh a combined 955 pounds. Foerg, like Whitenack, is 6-foot-7, and Schultlz, while much lighter, is one of the team’s strongest players at 191 pounds. “We’re going to play very physical football,” associate head coach Bill Gumm said. “We may lack a little on the finesse side, but when you have (over) 600 pounds sitting at tackle, you’re going to do what you can do and not try to force things.”
Well known for his ability to run and orchestrate the offense, Ketterer is ready to show off his passing skills, a rare commodity at the position for N.P. “Teams feel they have to stop our run,” Gumm said. “If they put seven, eight, nine guys in the box, the best way to get them to stop doing that is to throw the ball.” Mays returns in the backfield, where he was posting big numbers last season before an injury. The receiving corps is unknown, but Kmiecik and Lewandowski could emerge as threats, and Foerg, while primarily a blocker, can use his size as a pass catcher as well.
While the Cougars shouldn’t have a problem scoring points, the question will be how much will they have to put on the board to help along a young defense until they get their feet underneath them. “That’s how we’re going to start off, bend but don’t break, to give us a little confidence, so come tournament time, we can attack, get to the ball.,” defensive coordinator Julio Cisneros said. “The biggest thing right now is the kids are making each other compete. Eight spots are open, so kids are having to fight. I’m doing more coaching and the kids are listening.”
The line is especially young, with Graeber, Adams, Skornog, Hakes and Siford expected to be mainstays in the back seven. “I think we’re faster,” Cisneros said. “That will be our biggest advantage. That’s what we want our defense to be. We don’t necessarily need the big hogs because of the scheme we play.” That said, Radtke will look to use some of the offensive line beef on the defensive side as situations dictate and the summer heat gives way to the cool of fall.
Szymanski is steady with placements and Radtke expects the better overall numbers (73 on the roster) to manifest itself on special teams, where the Cougars were vulerable at times last season. “It’s going to help us where guys aren’t going to get tired playing on special teams,” he said. “We’ll be able to platoon in that situation, play fresh kids on the kickoffs and (punts). It’s all going to work out. It’s going to be fun.”
— compiled by Jim Peters