Ken Fox The Elkhart Truth.
The press release came over on a Monday afternoon
"Northridge High School names Chad Eppley as its new football coach, replacing the retiring Tom Wogomon."
I looked at my collegue Bob Oppenheim and asked the easy question.
Then we realized that Eppley was just 26 years old and would be coaching in the rugged Northern Lakes Conference against guys like Warsaw's Bart Curtis and then-Plymouth coach John Barron, who each likely had sweatshirts older than 26.
But man, what a great decision it turned out to be.
In his first season as the Raiders head coach, he took Northridge to the Class 4A state finals, winning game after game that the "experts" didn't think they would win.
NorthWood, Columbia City and No. 2 Leo in the sectional. Mississinewa in the regional. And then finally, New Prairie on the Cougars' home field on a bitterly cold night at the semistate.
During the run, the Raider players and fans picked up the mantra, "Why not us?"
They rode that all the way to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, where they finally met their match in a powerful Mount Vernon team.
Now, to prove that it wasn't a mirage, Eppley has the Raiders in the 4A regional again, after handing unbeaten and third-ranked NorthWood its first loss last Friday.
So, what makes Chad Eppley so special?
To me, there are two main reasons: The way he relates to his players and his very unique ability to adapt.
On the Monday prior to the title game in 2021, Northridge held a press conference with Eppley and seven of his players.
After answering the normal questions about the game, each player spoke glowingly and unrehearsed about what the young coach had brought to the program.
Words like honor and leadership. Belief and trust. Accountability and toughness.
In the pre-season, Eppley brought back a team camp to help his team bond and draw closer.
If you don't think that made a difference during some of those tough tournament games, then you were never an athlete.
Eppley continued to lead, even after the Raiders' loss in Indianapolis, reminding his players to keep their state runner-up medals around their neck, even though some wanted to just toss them into the stands.
And in his final speech to the 2021 Raiders, Chad Eppley reminded his players that he loved them.
As for his adaptability ...
At the start of the 2021 season, Northridge had Micah Hochstetler playing quarterback and Ricky Lloyd as one of his top backs.
But Lloyd went down in week one with a torn ACL and Hochstetler — who was off to a great start — suffered a leg injury in Week 4 and wouldn't return until the championship game (then only playing defense).
So Eppley and his staff looked at sophomore Connor Roth and junior Qade Carrington (more on him later) as a replacement for Hochstetler, before settling on a most unlikely quarterback in junior Tagg Gott.
Wearing No. 24.
But it worked.
After struggling in his first game as a starter against Mishawaka in Week 9 of the 2021 season, Gott became a sensation for Northridge, finishing with 1,103 yards rushing and 1,110 yards passing.
His picture-perfect 76-yard touchdown pass to Jethro Hochstetler with 1:31 to play against New Prairie gave the Raiders the win that sent them to Indy.
So Eppley was set to enter his second year with Gott returning at quarterback and a healthy Lloyd in the backfield.
That didn't last through the summer.
Due to family reasons, Gott moved to Schoolcraft, Michigan, for his senior year of football last summer.
Then, incredibly, Lloyd was again lost for the season to a torn ACL, this time after just two carries in 2022.
Eppley didn't blink.
He turned to Carrington to play quarterback and the senior has been nothing short of a revelation, having already thrown for 2,714 yards and 28 touchdowns this season. Hochsetetler and Kade Sainz have been his top targets, while junior McClain Miller has been a solid halfback.
So from a team in 2021 that had Gott run ... a lot ... picking his spots behind a strong offensive line, Eppley now has a team with a gunslinger at quarterback and fast receivers.
The best comparison I can think of for that kind of adaptability is Don Shula — yes that Don Shula, the NFL's all-time winningest coach.
When Shula led the Dolphins to back-to-back Super Bowl titles, which included the '72 Miami team which is still the last unbeaten team in NFL history, he favored a fun-heavy offense with Larry Csonka, Jim Klick and Mercury Morris, while quarterback Bob Griese was a "game manager."
Kids, look them up on YouTube.
Then Miami was able to draft Dan Marino to play quarterback in 1983 and things changed. Suddenly it was "Air Shula" and the veteran coach helped Marino become one of the best that's ever played the game.
Relax, I'm not saying Eppley is Don Shula yet. Just making a comparison.
So here we are again, after another 5-4 regular season Eppley has the Raiders at 8-4 and heading back to New Prairie, this time for a regional game on Friday night.
And just like 2021, there are doubters that the Raiders have a chance to win on the grass field of Amzie Miller Field against a strong New Prairie squad that has been hoping for a rematch since the Tagg-to-Jethro game last fall.
That's OK ... I'm sure the Raiders and their now-27-year-old coach don't mind if you take them lightly.
Northridge will show up for the 8 p.m. game on Tuesday and they'll try to write a new chapter in the Eppley legacy.
But win or lose, I know Eppley will tell his team that he loves them, and his players will show total respect to their leader.
And in high school sports, you can't ask for much more than that.