The football buzz is real and coaching debuts may never be as anticipated as Nate Andrews coming to NorthWood and Kyle Park settling in at Goshen. Two schools and communities accustomed to Friday night wins and championship chases have fallen into mediocrity.
That needs to change. Now.
FRIDAY, AUG. 22 LINEUP
Elkhart Central at Elkhart Memorial, 7:30
NorthWood at Jimtown, 7:30
SB Washington at Concord, 7:30
Carroll at Goshen, 7:30
SB Adams at Northridge, 7 p.m.
Fairfield at Mishawaka Marian, 7 p.m.
Wawasee at Whitko, 7 p.m.
Valparaiso at Penn, 7:30
In Wa-Nee, the fade to the middle of the Northern Lakes Conference pack has been slow and gradual, while in the Maple City, it’s been a decade-long free fall.
Fans are anxious for a turnaround. Swift kicks in the pants were needed for both programs. Fires have been lit, expectations have been spelled out and both programs are on the road to restoration.
But let’s be careful. Caution signs should be placed at every turn and the faithful masses need to pump the brakes before drawing up parade plans and booking rooms in Indianapolis for Thanksgiving.
These are coaches. They’re proud, talented men with strong character and passionate hearts. Miracle workers they are not.
Let’s all give them room to maneuver. Allow them to re-raise the bar at their pace. Patience needs to be exercised on many levels — by players, coaching staffs and loyal followers.
The stories are now familiar. Kyle’s dad, Brad Park, was the last winning GHS coach and the merry-go-round of program leaders since he left in 2002 is unprecedented in the area. Friday night will be Kyle’s first as a head coach.
As a former player and coaching assistant he knows the drill, but this year, he’ll be the one front-and-center, not merely a part of the program.
Kyle’s pondered opening night many times over and he says he really won’t know how he’ll feel until the first kickoff.
Down and dirty
"I’ve had a chance to think about it for several months and when I do, I get goosebumps," Park said. "It’s exciting and it’s nervewracking. I’ll just be wondering if guys are prepared.
“When I’m driving in the car to and from school, I think about Friday nights in general. I’m big on visualization and when we’ve talked to the team, we talk about visualizing success, to picture it in your mind. What’s it’s going to feel like?”
For Andrews, the bottle of emotion is filled a different way. Nate’s dad, the late, great Jim Andrews, coached the Panthers for 20 years. And Rich Dodson, the man who succeeded Jim Andrews, is his stepfather.
Nate’s been down this road before — seven times to be exact. Andrew has taken his own squads to the sidelines to open seasons five times at Lapel and the last two years at Western High, near Kokomo.
Been there, done that.
In his second year at Lapel, the team went 10-3, one of the best marks in school history. Over two seasons at Western, he took a team to a sectional final in the first year and to a nine-win season the next.
"At Lapel, I could not be prouder in the fact that that we always played undersized and outmanned every single week, but we never hung our heads," Andrews said. "Leaving that program was really hard on me. In the fourth and fifth year, we were in ballgames we had no business being in. It was a lot of fun."
There’s new everywhere — terminology, schemes, assistant coaches and players especially. Neither program is blessed with deep rosters or loaded lineups, but they’ll go out with who they have and they’ll be better for it.
Lessons are waiting to be learned. Scoreboards will take care of themselves. Getting back to executing all football facets the right way isn’t optional. It’s paramount.
Opening night is merely the next of many steps to be taken.
Let’s play. Game on.
Bill Beck is The Elkhart Truth sports editor. Follow him on Twitter at eTruthsports or @BillBeckTruth