BY DEAN HOCKNEY
RUSSIAVILLE, Ind. – It took a little more than three months, but the Western Panthers have their man. By a unanimous vote by the school board on April 27, Nate Andrews was hired to lead the Panther football season into its next era of excellence.
“We want to win with character, class, moral integrity – both off the field and on the field – and (Andrews) vision of how he wanted to develop youth and how he handles the classroom is what sold us,” said Western Athletic Director Ryan Berryman. “On paper, he is a class act and I know he is going to do good things.”
Andrews comes to the Panther program after holding the same position at Class 1A Lapel High School, where he compiled a 25-31 record in five seasons. During the 2008 campaign, his Bulldogs went 10-3 and won the school’s second Class 1A sectional title – which earned him a spot as an assistant coach on the Indiana South All-Star team. He previously was a six-year assistant coach at Zionsville. Now, he wants to bring that winning attitude to the Panthers.
“A lot of the people I talked to, including (Berryman), have the same vision – not only to take this program to another level but doing it the right way,” said Andrews. “We want to make winners in life, and that is what I am about. To have an entire school headed in that direction was music to my ears. I grew up in a community like this, an athletic community, a smaller community, so this is a good fit. It feels right.”
Andrews grew up the son of a high school football coaching legend in Nappanee. His father, Jim Andrews, was the NorthWood High School football coach before being killed in a car accident when the younger Andrews was in the eighth grade. The elder Andrews compiled a career record of 150-67 in 20 seasons on the sideline, winning six sectional titles and two IHSAA state runners-up trophies. And while those statistics will be hard to match, the new Western coach will use his father for inspiration.
“He started the program (at NorthWood) and never had a losing season,” said Andrews, who noted the NorthWood football field is named after his late father. “They were by far the smallest school in the league – they were 3A when everyone else was 4A and 5A. He is my role model and idol.”
Andrews is no stranger to winning. At NorthWood, he earned 11 varsity athletic letters. In football, he led the school to the Class 3A state title game, was an Indiana North All-Star (making him one of the few who have played and coached in the game), and set school records for rushing and touchdowns for a game, season and career. He also set school records in track and was a seven-time Northern Lakes Conference individual champion. But his biggest accomplishment came on the wrestling mat, where he was crowned the 1996 IHSAA state champion at 171-pounds and set school records for season and career pins.
Following high school, Andrews took his talents to Ball State University where he played in all 44 games of his career, although he switched to defense and played strong safety and linebacker. Three times he was named the team’s Most Outstanding Athlete and in 2000 he was team captain. His Cardinals also won the Mid-American Conference championship and the Las Vegas Bowl. His accomplishments in high school and college earned him a spot in the Elkhart County Sports Hall of Fame.
But now, it is time for Andrews to take over the Panther program left vacant by Alix Engle, who resigned during last year’s Christmas break. Engle left the program with a record of 58-23. His .716 winning percentage is the best in Western’s history. Nw Andrews will need to figure out how to keep a Class 3A program on the winning path after serving as coach of a much smaller Class 1A system.
“I was at (Class 4A, which transitioned to Class 5A) Zionsville for six years, so I know a little about coaching big schools,” said Andrews, who will teach advanced physical conditioning at Western this fall. “I grew up in a Class 3A school and a Class 3A environment, so I know exactly what it is, what it is about, and what it takes. I also played at Ball State, so I know a little about playing at that higher level. My Dad was in a 3A program and could have gone elsewhere, but he was where he wanted to be. That is who I am – I am not the guy who is looking for the big job. I want to be somewhere where there is stability and where they care about me and my family.”
When asked what type of system he will bring to Western, Andrews said it will depend on the student-athletes and the coaches.
“Wow, that is a good question. I would say in high school I was a little more offensive minded – I don’t know why, I just was,” said Andrews. “And then in college I was recruited by many schools as an offensive player but Ball State from the get-go recruited me as a defensive back. Then went to Zionsville and coached on defense until they moved me to offense before they moved me back to defense. At Lapel, I thought I would be an offensive guy because I thought you could make more of an impact there as a head coach at the high school level. And yet, my staff didn’t work out that way so I took the defense. Who know what is going to happen here once I get the staff together.”
Andrews is a “big family guy” and says “they are a huge part of my life. My wife Kati is a second grade teacher at Lapel and a volleyball guru, as I say. My daughter, Viviana, will be three in June and she is special. The other day we were in the back yard, and before she ran down the hill, she had to get in a perfect three-point stance and yell ‘hut, hut’ before taking off. And I have a nine-week old son named Cooper. He already has a set of shoulders on him.”
Andrews said that once his duties at Lapel are over, he will be fully involved with the Western program, including the possibility of running a summer youth program. Just 112 short days after being named the leader of the Panthers, the Russiaville community will get at their new guy as they will play a to-be-determined opponent on Aug. 17 before kicking off the Mid-Indiana Conference campaign against Taylor two weeks later. Let the games begin.