Hunter Whitenack was hurt to hear the news Russ Radtke is leaving New Prairie to coach at Portage, but has no ill-will or feelings towards Radtke. The highly-recruited sophomore offensive tackle’s more concerned with the future of the Cougars’ football program, hoping to continue their recent success.

“Even though he’s leaving, I still really like Coach Radtke,” Whitenack said. “He did a lot for me and my family. But you’ve just gotta move on.”

While the departure of the second-winningest active coach in Indiana could prove detrimental for most football programs, that won’t necessarily be the case with New Prairie. The players, especially Whitenack, aren’t losing any confidence in how successful they can be in 2020.

A bevy of starters are returning on both sides of the ball, including three of their five offensive linemen – a unit that proved to be one of the most dominant in the state in 2019.

“It’s not like we’re not going to be good next year,” Whitenack said. “This just gives us more motivation to do well... Our players, we (won games). We have to continue to be able to do that... I still think we can win. Yeah, we’re losing Chase (Ketterer). But we’re gaining more pieces. (Projected quarterback) Ian (Skornog) is a freak athlete. We’re still going to be good.”

One of the ways to overcome a drastic coaching change is with players stepping up and becoming leaders and role models for the rest of the team. While Whitenack is only a sophomore, he’s using this as an opportunity to step up and become New Prairie’s bonafide leader.

He found out Monday afternoon while watching his brother wrestle. Whitenack and assistant football coach Bill Gumm discussed Radtke’s decision during that, prompting Whitenack to bring his teammates together for a team meeting Tuesday morning. He wanted to make sure his teammates knew this coaching change didn’t change anything, that they were still going to be a force to be reckoned with in 2020.

In addition to being a motivational leader, Whitenack also realizes he will have to lead by example in workouts and practices, since New Prairie’s offensive line coach is joining Radtke at Portage.

“I have to look at it as how I need to be the new O-line coach,” Whitenack said. “Me and the other tackle, (senior) Chris (McGrew), have been texting about how we have to step it up and take over. (Sophomore guard) Adam (Borror), too.”

When dealing with adversity such as this, it’s important to have players who can rally everyone together in trying times. Whitenack has assumed that role and will surely continue to exude the work ethic that Radtke instilled during his time at New Prairie.

Gumm can testify to that work ethic. He was Radtke’s right-hand-man for the past eight years and learned how just how much Radtke challenged not only his players, but fellow coaches to get better.

“I absolutely loved coaching with Russ for the last eight years,” Gumm said. “In my opinion, he’s the greatest coach in Indiana history... Russ had the ability to push all of us to a level we didn’t think we could reach. It’s not easy to coach for Russ Radtke. But you will have a game plan and you will win. I would lose sleep worrying about the game plan and the blocking schemes just because that’s what he expected out of me... Portage will be one of the top teams in Indiana in a couple years because of Russ’ ability to push the players and coaches to another level.”

Replacing a coach such as Radtke will be undoubtedly tough. But as for now, whether Gumm is named interim head coach or not, he’s is only concerned about one thing.

“I just want to take care of these boys,” Gumm said. “I want what’s best for the kids at the end of the day... Regardless of what ends up happening, I want them to know that they and football are very important to New Prairie.”

Email: jparodi@thenewsdispatch.com Twitter: @jack_parodi

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