BY DEAN HOCKNEY
RUSSIAVILLE, Ind. – In football, Western has a tradition of gritty, hard-nosed football. A blue collar style of the game. The program is known to stuff its opponents on defense and run the ball down their throats on offense. It has been that way for decades – the Black Attack. But Panther fans had better hold on because that is about to change.
“We are going to look different,” said first-year Western head coach Ron Jankovich. “We will throw the ball more. I think like a quarterback. It will be a little different than what they have seen for the last 49 years.”
Jankovich arrives to helm the black and white after a career as a quarterback at Lake Central High School and Bethel College in Tennessee. He served as Bethel’s quarterback’s coach and passing coordinator for the past two seasons. Jankovich takes over for Nate Andrews, who departed for his alma mater of NorthWood after two seasons and a 15-8 record.
“I spent time at Bethel as the (offensive coordinator), but thankfully I am able to come back up here to Indiana and coach,” he said. “Indiana is home, and I get to live out the dream as a head coach in my home state.”
Jankovich inherits a squad that was 9-2 last season and champions of the Mid-Indiana Conference at 6-1. But graduation losses will bite the Panthers, losing its top two rushers plus all-state offensive lineman Brett Boswell and all-state defensive lineman Russell McDorman. Like a lot of Howard County squads, the Panthers are young with just eight seniors on the varsity roster.
“It is a work in progress,” said Jankovich. “We are young, but that seems to be going around the conference. I really think we will grow quickly. We had a great off-season in the weight room, so I think we are more athletic than a year ago.”
With an offensive mindset, Jankovich will look to junior Jacob Douglass and freshman Tyler Knepley to fill the role of quarterback in his new passing scheme. A trio of juniors are slotted to run the ball in Cameron Dessing, Nolan Stout and Brooklyn Watters. Senior Quintin Fields, junior Min Park and freshman Ricky Bearden will compete for fullback responsibilities. Senior Kyle Vail will return to tight end, and senior Jake Stout and junior Tanner Heady are in line to catch passes.
“These kids are amazing,” said Jankovich. “When I got here we had 50-some kids in summer weights. They are excited to be here and they work hard. That is all I can ask for. I feel comfortable, and I think the kids do to.”
Jankovich plans to use a base 3-3 stack on defense, and will return the squads top two tacklers from a year ago. Filling the linebacker spots are senior Corey Hinkle, who had 72 tackles and earned junior all-state honors last season, and Fields, who had 76 tackles.
“Corey was an all-state wrestler too, and he can flat out play ball,” said Jankovich. “He is a game-changer. When Corey puts his head down and does what he is supposed to do, he is tough.
“And Fields, Jake Stout, Vail – these guys are all going to contribute in a big way on offense and defense. I like our senior class. We may not have 30 guys, but we have 80 football players, and I think that is what we need. I think people look too much into the numbers. We are in a good situation.”
Football season has returned to Russiaville, but not in the form Panther Nation is used to. What was once a controlled game now will see the pigskin fly though the air on a regular basis. And with this being the last year of the MIC, it should be an exciting year for the Western Panthers and its new coach.