SOUTH WHITLEY — Whitko head football coach Jeff Sprunger has a simple motto that he operates by every season: “Hustle and heart will set us apart.”

Those words are recited to the Wildcats every day at practice. Sprunger wants the players to understand they aren’t the fastest on the field or the strongest, but their work ethic and their effort will go a long way to determining the outcome of games.

As the new high school football season is getting underway, Sprunger and the rest of the coaches are already seeing the players living that motto every day.

“We’re getting kids to fly around,” Sprunger said. “We’re going to scrap for some wins.”

Sprunger said some changes in the offseason were keys to seeing some improvements for a team that finished last year without a win. First, Sprunger was able to add a strength and conditioning class last school year with several players in attendance. The players in the class improved their strength tremendously, which Sprunger said has also brought along a new sense of confidence. Whitko has also made some changes on defense that will impact how the team plays.

“We change formations every play on offense,” Sprunger said, “but not on defense.”

This year that is changing.

The ’Cats welcome Roger Webb as a new defensive coach and Sprunger said the plan is for several players to be interchangeable. The team doesn’t want to simply line up in its traditional 4-4-3 defense, but instead mix up fronts so opponents can’t get into a comfortable flow with their offense.

Ashton Schuh and Mason Lehman are back as the team’s inside linebackers and Sprunger feels they could be compared to some of the greats who have played the position for Whitko in years past. Cain Nunley will lock down one of the outside linebacker spots but several players will move in and out of the fourth linebacker spot, which will also be used as a safety. Ethan Howard and Zach Neer could play those roles.

In the secondary Collin Loe is back at safety and Isaiah Pierce returns as a starter at one of the corner positions. Sprunger said the ’Cats are still trying to determine who will play along the defensive line and what the alignments will look like.

Where Sprunger said the added strength from the weight room will really be noticable is along the offensive line. The team has four of the five starters back from last year from a group that was already quick. Now those linemen have added muscle to go behind their quickness.

One luxury Whitko will enjoy this season is a wealth of talent at the skill positions on offense. Senior Cade Bechtold is back at quarterback. Plus, Dominic Moseley is healthy this year and will take some repetitions under center to give the ’Cats a different look for opponents to defend.

Behind Bechtold and Moseley are several players who will get their hands on the ball. Zach Gardner is back at tailback and the ’Cats will also have the speedy Cameron Sapp coming out of the backfield. Four different Whitko backs including Neer and Riley Young could see time at fullback for the team.

The schedule this season does not present the ’Cats with an easy road to travel. The team opens at home for its first two games against county rivals Churubusco and Columbia City. Then they have to work through the Three Rivers Conference North Division against talented rivals Northfield and Rochester as well as the ’Cats two biggest TRC foes, Tippecanoe Valley and Manchester.

Sprunger said the Wildcats have a good mix of players this year, as there are 45 guys out for football this year including the 27 who won varsity letters last season.

With that much experience back and the new changes made, Sprunger says all the team needs now is to add that heart and hustle, and the results on the field will take care of themselves.