By Mark Parker
SOUTH WHITLEY — For many seasons, fans coming to watch Whitko’s Wildcat football team knew pretty much what to expect. They were going to see a winged-T offense and a familiar coaching staff. All that changes this season as the fans can expect to see a change in fortunes for Wildcats in 2019.
The first of those changes came in the off-season as Whitko announced the hiring of former Warsaw coach Phil Jensen. Jensen is familiar to Whitley County after a four-year stint at Churubusco in the mid-90s and more recent long-term assignment as head coach at 6A Warsaw, where he faced Columbia City in each season opener. After a brief time away from coaching, Jensen returns to take the helm of a Whitko team that has won only one contest in the past two seasons.
“I am having to learn how to do things all over again,” Jensen said. “Coming from a 6A school where I had almost unlimited resources in the number of players and staff to a smaller school is quite an adjustment.”
The Wildcat program needed a change not only in the X’s and O’s of football but a change in attitude. Jensen believes he has seen the beginnings of that change in the summer work ethics of the players that he has had contact with.
“We have a great group of young men,” Jensen said. “They have been committed. We have had 19 or 20 of them all summer long. We had them go to camp, and those are things they have never done before. They are eager and they are hungry.”
The Wildcats will need to stay healthy, as they are limited in numbers.
“We have five or so kids that will play both ways, and another five kids who will play on both sides of the ball, subbing in for people in key roles,” Jensen said.
The change in attitude will be coupled with a change in both the offensive and defensive schemes of the Wildcats.
Offensively, Coach Jensen’s plan is to keep things simple.
“We want to keep things simple, take care of the ball, pick up three yards and move the football and keep our defense off the field,” Jensen said. “We aren’t going to fool anybody.”
Offensively, the Wildcats will run an I-formation with some option plays, emphasizing power football and ball control with play action passing. Defensively, the Wildcats will move to a 4-4 arrangement.
“We want to just line up and play football,” Jensen said.
Jensen points to seniors Ashton Schuh and Mason Lehman as linebackers on defense and Lehman also lining up at a full back spot on offense with Schuh holding down a wide-out position when the Wildcats have the ball.
Part of the Wildcats’ preseason emphasis has been on developing the offensive line. The Wildcats will need to replace four offensive lineman from last year’s squad.
The Wildcats open the season with a perennially tough Churubusco team followed by three Three Rivers Conference opponents in Peru, Rochester and Maconaquah.
“We have three of our toughest opponents in our first four games,” Jensen said. “Southwood and Tippecanoe Valley are both good teams (too). The TRC is a good small-school football conference. We will have our hands full, but we will line up, keep it simple and play fast and play hard.”