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HHF/GID Interview with Elkhart Head Coach Josh Shattuck


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Guest DT
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Elkhart had a geat debut season in their first year post consolidation of Central and Memorial.  Coach Shattuck and his staff look to build on that momentum despite the loss of a big senior class

 

Question 1 :
Year 1 of the consolidation of Central and Memorial could not have gone any better for you, your staff and your program.  Can you walk us through some of the challenges and obstacles you faced during the integration process, and how you and your team managed to work your way through those challenges?
 
 
Answer 1:
Thank you!  We had a great group of kids last season with some high level talent to match.  It was a crazy year for everyone because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but to be going through our school merger and working out the kinks of that during the same year was just a different animal.  The biggest obstacle for us was simply logistics and getting everyone where they needed to be when they needed to be there.  Even though we played sports as a merged Elkhart High School this past year, we were still in two entirely separate 9-12 campuses.  Communication procedures, transportation, etc were just major things that needed to get ironed out.  Throw in all of the Covid-19 restrictions on busing, the academic day, breaks in in-person school, etc and you can imagine a\the logistical nightmare we were faced with.  We were able to work through those by recognizing very early in the year that we needed to shift gears as a staff in how we treated the season.  In my time as a Head Coach, we have really focused on building a true comprehensive football program that starts at the Youth level and builds unity and cohesion throughout the process of growing up in our program.  We have typically spent a lot of time with servicing our student-athletes with leadership training, community service projects, academic support study tables, team building activities, etc.  However, because of the pandemic, combined with the merger and no off-season, we had to pivot and essentially eliminate everything off the field and make sure that we were accomplishing all of our goals in the limited time we had together during practice.  In the past, we always had kids come into our facility early, stay late, hang out, etc.  With Covid, it had to be get in, practice, and get out to avoid long periods of contact with one another.  All of our relationship building, teambuilding, leadership training, etc had to take place as part of our actual football practice.  While this is obviously not ideal, I attest a lot of our success with this to our staff recognizing this early and building an unorthodox plan.
 
 
 
 
Question 2 :
Despite being impacted by Covid issues, your team ripped through the regular season undefeated, beating long time nemesis Penn in the process, won your sectional and then lost a tight regional championship game to Merrillville.  Were you surprised at the level of success you enjoyed last season, or did you see this coming as you built through the consolidation process?
 
Answer 2
I was not surprised one bit at our overall success this past season.  I knew we would have a very talented roster and I felt very confident in our staff to be able to build a structure that would help get the most out of our kids.  We have great kids here in Elkhart who work hard and want to win.  I feel that this has been brewing for awhile here in Elkhart and we just needed to put the pieces together. We improved our win total at Elkhart Central from 4 wins in 2017 and 6 wins in 2018 and 9 wins in 2019.  We knew that Elkhart Memorial had a very good and experienced Senior class with high level talent.  What I was surprised most by was our execution early in the season.  While I am not surprised that we were winning games, I was very pleasantly surprised at how quickly our players picked up our systems of offense, defense and special teams.  With no off-season and no workouts/practices in July, along with half of the players not knowing any part of our systems, it was incredible to see how quickly our guys picked things up, which is a testament to their hard work, dedication and desire to be successful.
 
 
 
 
Question 3 :
There has always been a lot of talent in Elkhart, but it never quite manifested itself fully during the Central and Memorial eras.  How did you and staff pull all that talent together so quickly, and then implement systems that your kids executed so successfully during the regular and post seasons?
 
Answer 3
I may have answered parts of this question in earlier answers, but I agree with you that there has always been talent here in Elkhart.  When I left Seymour after the 2016 season to come to Elkhart Central, that was the very first thing I recognized when I turned on the tape.  As many coaches and fans know, there is just so much more that goes into winning than talent.  I do think talent is a huge factor, having talent alone does not guarantee any level of team success in this sport.  The talent needs to be cultivated and pointed in the right direction.  In 2017, our mission was simply to stabilize and legitimize the program.  To do this, we needed to change the reputation that people had about Elkhart Central football, which was exactly what you said in your question; Elkhart had a lot of talent but hadn't manifested itself into team success in recent years. Our last season at Elkhart Central (2019), we were 9-3 with two close losses to Mishawaka and a 2 point road loss to Penn. While we still needed to get over the hump, we felt like we had stabilized and legitimized the program and had things pointed in the right direction to wrap up the program at Elkhart Central before the merger.
 
When the coaching hire was made for the newly merged Elkhart High School, we were ready to get going.  We had great meetings and built our staff and then Covid hit.  I think that the success that we had at Elkhart Central on the field, as well as a handful of our top level players going on to play in college gave us instant credibility with the kids from Elkhart Memorial.  There are not enough words to describe the gratitude I have towards those kids who spent the first 3 years of their high school football careers hating everything about Elkhart Central and our staff/players and then coming in and buying in right away to everything we are doing.  There are a lot of fierce rivalries out there, and I have been a part of some of them in my time at various places.  However, I don't think you will find a more fierce rivalry than the one Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial had.  Two schools in the same town and same school district.  They go to Elementary together and Middle School together before being split in High School.  To have them combine and have such a great season working together was incredibly uplifting to see and gives me hope that the future is bright.
 
 
 
 
Question : 4
What do you generally like to run as your core offensive and defensive philosophies from a scheme perspective?
 
Answer 4
I have been an option-minded coach since my 2nd year as a Head Coach, back in 2010 in northern Michigan.  We were exclusively a spread option team running Inside Veer, Outside Veer and Midline up there.  When I got to Seymour in southern Indiana in 2013, we kept that system and gradually started adding some true shotgun QB run components.  We had a Quarterback named Alan Perry that we started as a Freshman back in 2014 and he was as special of a football player as I can remember from the standpoint of what he was mentally capable of remembering and executing. We started running RPO's with Alan in the later part of the 2014 season and have carried that with us and evolved that aspect of our offense.  When we got to Elkhart Central in 2017, we ran almost exclusively option football like we did in northern Michigan much earlier.  It is my first belief that in year 1 at the high school level, you have to know what the coaching staff is most comfortable teaching because you don't have the luxury of knowing the ins and outs of your roster and the strengths of your players.  After our first season at Elkhart Central, it became very clear to us that pure option football was NOT the best way to get the most out of our student-athletes on that side of the ball.  We made a wholesale switch to a power spread offense that would help us get the ball to our best players in places for them to be successful.  The biggest change that this provided for us was allowing our QB to be the best passer that we had without having to be a great runner.
 
From a defensive perspective, we are not a program that hangs our hat on one particular defensive alignment.  With our athletes, we feel strongly about our ability to cover the pass with as few bodies as possible, which allows us to get extra hats into the box.  At the high school level, especially in the northern states, in my opinion,  you have to be able to run the ball and stop the run effectively to make deep postseason runs. We are multiple with our fronts but have had some very high level defensive lineman over the years.  Because of this, we feel best about being an even front team most of the time.
 
 
 
 
Question 5 :
You won't be able to sneak up on anyone this year after last year's tremendous success.  What is your outlook for The NIC, and is the conference as currently constructed providing a high enough level of competition to fully prepare your team for the tournament?
 
Answer 5
The NIC is such an interesting conference because of the variety of opponents that we see.  The first thing that stands out to me is the elephant in the room, which is Penn.  Their history of success and the way they run their program is simply unparalleled in our area.  They are absolutely top-notch in everything that they do and the way that they operate their program.  Coach Yeoman is an incredible coach and leader.  Penn will always be the team on our schedule that stands in the way of us achieving our goals.  I am not afraid to be fully transparent and public about the fact that we spend a lot of time trying to find ways to gain advantages against them in how we do things, which is a tall order.
 
From there, you have other very good programs in Mishawaka Marian and New Prairie.  Places with a ton of recent success and pride.  What Mike Davidson has done at Mishawaka Marian in his short time there is incredible.  They simply win football games.  Covid prevented us from playing them this past fall, but they had an unbelievable team and will continue to be a major player in our conference.  New Prairie is in the same boat when it comes to winning games.  They have such great pride in the community over there and play at such a higher level than their enrollment would indicate.  For a school with 1,000 kids, they get the most out of there players.  I also think that New Prairie is the toughest place to play.  No one goes in there and gets a win just by showing up at that place.
 
The South Bend schools have struggled in recent years but they always have the ability to put high level athletes on the field, which makes you uneasy in preparation.  Saint Joe has had a couple of tough years, but they were very good as recently as 2018 and are fully capable of getting back to that level.
 
The conference gives us a wide variety of looks, which I think is extremely helpful for post-season play.  We see powerful teams like New Prairie, extremely athletic teams like Adams, true spread teams like Misahwaka Marian, and the traditional powerhouse program in Penn.  
 
 
 
 
Question 6:
You open the 2021 season with 4 non conference games against schools in lower classes.  What is your general approach to non con scheduling, and will we see Elkhart possibly reaching out to either top end private schools or perhaps some of the big Indy 6A schools ?
 
Answer 6
Non-conference scheduling is very difficult for us because of the fact that it is the first 4 weeks.  Weeks 1 and 2 are not difficult to find opponents, but weeks 3 and 4 are extremely tricky due to most teams across the state being locked into conference play by that time.  
 
Our Week 1 game is against Concord, which is only 4 miles from our field.  It is a great game for our local community and one that should provide our Athletic Department with a great deal of gate and concession money when we host.  Concord is traditionally a very very good team and program with a lot of success and top level talent.  Coach Koehler is a very good friend of mine and he does a great job there.  This will always be a great game for both teams to be able to open in front of that kind of atmosphere.
 
Our Week 2 game is currently Mishawaka, which is obviously another very good opponent that we have a ton of history with.  With Mishawaka leaving the NIC after the 2019 season, we wanted to keep this long-standing game alive as a non-conference game.  We have had incredible games with the Cavemen over the years.  Coach Kinder and I were reminiscing the other day and realized that the last 4 times we have competed against one another, the game ended as a 1 score game. Playing against the triple option and how well they run it over there at Mishawaka is a huge challenge for our players and coaches.
 
Our Week 3 game this year is against the newly merged Hammond Morton team.  This is a great matchup for both teams in similar situations with recent school mergers.  We will both provide one another with a great deal of athleticism and speed, so that is an exciting game.
 
When it comes to future scheduling, we are doing our best to try and find the balance between ramping up our schedule but being smart about it.  For us to be successful in generating revenue, we can't fill all of our non-conference games with teams that won't get fans to our stadium when we host.  Because of this, we need to find teams that make for a great game but also get people in the stands, which is a delicate balance. 
 
Starting in 2022, we have a 2 year contract with Carmel, who will replace Mishawaka as our Week 2 opponent.  We will host Carmel at Rice Field in Elkhart in 2022 and travel to Carmel in 2023.  We feel like this is a much needed game for us to be able to see a powerhouse Indy school early in the year to help build our expectation.  Carmel is not only one of the best programs in Indiana, but in the entire Midwest as well.  Our goal is to expand our brand here in Elkhart, and in order to do that, you have to schedule games like these.
 
 
 
Question 7 :
You graduated a lot of key contributors off of last year's team.  Who are some of you top returning players offensively and defensively who will be your main difference makers on Friday nights in 2021?
 
Answer 7
We graduated 19 of our 22 starters from the 2020 team, so to say we will be young/inexperienced is an understatement.  However, our major theme for this season is to "Meet The Standard" that has been set for our program.  The 2020 season at Elkhart High set the tone for what our expectations are.  The number of returning starters or production will never have an impact of the standards and expectations that we have year in and year out.  Our 2021 team will be very different from our 2020 team, but the expectations will not.
 
Our lone returning starter on Defense is Javin Lowe.  Javin is an interior Defensive Lineman who was an honorable mention All-NIC performer in 2020.  His a phenomenal player who will lead our defense this season.
 
On offense, we have two returning starters, both of whom are Wide Receivers.  Donye Higgins returns as our slot receiver and Donovan Johnson returns as an outside receiver for us. Donovan was an honorable mention All-NIC player in 2020 and he is really the heart and soul of our offense.  He is a big time player who had his best games in our most crucial moments in 2020.  We are looking for big things from both of these guys in 2021, and we will need it.
'
 
 
Question 8:
Strong feeder systems and youth programs  are critically important towards the development of the best high school programs in Indiana. How would you describe your feeder system in Elkhart, and have you reached a point where the lower levels are in sync with the varsity programs in terms of style of play and systems utilized?
 
Answer 8
We have a youth football program here in Elkhart called the Elkhart Youth Football League (EYFL).  I am a non-voting board member of the EYFL, which has been very good over the years.  When I first arrived in Elkhart in 2017, the youth league was in a difficult spot because it served as a feeder for two high schools.  When those two schools have different philosophies, schemes, etc, it becomes a tricky situation for the youth league to have a direction.  I worked extremely hard to build relationships with the stake-holders of the youth league and to build trust that my vision for the Youth league wasn't all simply in my personal best interests, but the best interests of the kids who played  in the league.  Obviously, with our schools merging, it has become much easier to point the Youth League into one direction when it comes to overall philosophy and scheme because there is only one high school and one high school head coach.  The EYFL unfortunately was unable to have a season in the fall of 2020 due to Covid-19, but we feel good about the direction that we are going when it comes to Youth Football here in Elkhart.
 
We have two middle school programs here in Elkhart and they are part of our school system.  I am not sure how other schools do it, but I am responsible for overseeing our Middle School programs from a staffing and structural perspective.  I work hand in hand with the Middle School Athletic Directors to make sure we are on the same page.  Our two Middle School staffs are an extension of our High School staff and both programs run our systems of offense and defense.  This gets tricky once per year when they play against one another, but that is a small obstacle in comparison to the advantages of having kids come in knowing the base systems as well as the base standards and expectations that our program has.
 
I will be honest and admit that unifying and streamlining our program at the Elementary thru Middle School levels is where we have the most work to do.  The dust is still settling on our school merger and I would by lying if I said that everything is in perfect alignment.  Turnover of staff and administrators, new policies, new school schedules, etc are all things that need to be ironed out, but it is my job to find solutions to these issues and continue to work toward unifying everything that we are doing from a football program perspective.  For year 1 of our merger just now concluding and dealing with an unexpected global pandemic, I do feel like we are in a good position overall to move forward in this regard.
 
 
 
Question 9 :
The south, and the MIC in general, has owned Class 6A since its inception.  The Region, Fort Wayne and your area of North Central Indiana all have challengers to the 6A throne, but have not shown any indication of a pending breakthrough.  What will it take for a northern school to take down The MIC and bring a state championship back to The North?
 
Question 9
This exact question is my entire motivation and what keeps me up at night.  Some people give coach-speak or throw their hands up and say "it is what it is" when it comes to Indy, and more specifically MIC dominance in 6A when it comes to championships.  In my opinion, there two major obstacles that 6A schools outside the Indianapolis area have, and I am not afraid to talk about them bluntly.  
 
#1 is scheduling.  I am a firm believer that you are a product of what you are exposed to over time.  The Indy schools have schedules that are full of nothing but teams that can beat you on any given night. Over time, this creates a "cream always rises" situation where teams are fighting for ways to keep up.  Outside of Indy, 6A teams like us, Penn, Region school and Fort Wayne simply don't have the ability to fill our schedules with nothing but 6A teams.  Our solution to this is to schedule these teams in the summer so that our kids are exposed to the top teams.  This summer, we have competed against Valparaiso (5A but very good and have been 6A recently), Lafayette Jeff and Lawrence North.  Later this month, we will compete against Brownsburg, another 6A team with recent success. We don't have the ability to simply schedule 9 different 6A teams in the regular season, so traveling to Indy in the summer is the next best thing.  As I mentioned in an earlier answer, we have scheduled Carmel in 2022 and 2023 to help with this same issue.
 
#2 is Strength & Conditioning.  At the risk of sounding whiny, I will just make a factual statement that the Indy schools are light years ahead of us, and many other schools in Indiana, when it comes to the investment in S&C.  Here in Elkhart, our football staff is 100% responsible for the entire strength & conditioning program for our football players.  We do not have a Strength & Conditioning teacher or someone on a subcontract to come in and work with our players.  I have spoken at length with a couple of colleagues who are Head Coaches at 6A Indy schools and they are in utter shock when I describe what it is like for many schools up here.  The investment that Indy schools, and others, have made to Strength & Conditioning for all student-athletes (not just football players) is incredible.  Due to our situation with school funding here in Elkhart, I do not see our situation changing much any time soon.  We lift and have a comprehensive approach like everyone else, but it is the responsibility of our football staff entirely, which becomes difficult if you have coaches in various buildings, coaches who work outside the school system, etc.  When you have a full time S&C coach, that person's entire job is to make kids stronger, faster and more athletic.  For us in Elkhart, that job falls on top of running the entire football program.  Indy 6A powerhouses are way ahead in this aspect.
 
With these two things said, it is 100% my job as our head coach to come up with solutions to close the gap with Indy schools.  In reality, a team from our area would not see an Indy team until the semi-state.  Penn has had plenty of success at the Semi-state level over the years, but like everyone else outside of Indy, has been unable to win it all.  I do think that in a one game situation, anything is possible and it's up to the coaches of programs outside of Indy to recognize where our disadvantages are and work tirelessly to find solutions.  Throwing our hands up in the air and saying "it is what it is" is like waving a giant white flag to 6A Indy schools, which sets the rest of us back even further.  I can tell you that in our program our staff is constantly seeking ways to make the most out of the advantages we have and close the game of the disadvantages that we incur. Time will tell if we are successful in that approach.
 

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35 minutes ago, DT said:

Elkhart had a geat debut season in their first year post consolidation of Central and Memorial.  Coach Shattuck and his staff look to build on that momentum despite the loss of a big senior class

 

Question 1 :
Year 1 of the consolidation of Central and Memorial could not have gone any better for you, your staff and your program.  Can you walk us through some of the challenges and obstacles you faced during the integration process, and how you and your team managed to work your way through those challenges?
 
 
Answer 1:
Thank you!  We had a great group of kids last season with some high level talent to match.  It was a crazy year for everyone because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but to be going through our school merger and working out the kinks of that during the same year was just a different animal.  The biggest obstacle for us was simply logistics and getting everyone where they needed to be when they needed to be there.  Even though we played sports as a merged Elkhart High School this past year, we were still in two entirely separate 9-12 campuses.  Communication procedures, transportation, etc were just major things that needed to get ironed out.  Throw in all of the Covid-19 restrictions on busing, the academic day, breaks in in-person school, etc and you can imagine a\the logistical nightmare we were faced with.  We were able to work through those by recognizing very early in the year that we needed to shift gears as a staff in how we treated the season.  In my time as a Head Coach, we have really focused on building a true comprehensive football program that starts at the Youth level and builds unity and cohesion throughout the process of growing up in our program.  We have typically spent a lot of time with servicing our student-athletes with leadership training, community service projects, academic support study tables, team building activities, etc.  However, because of the pandemic, combined with the merger and no off-season, we had to pivot and essentially eliminate everything off the field and make sure that we were accomplishing all of our goals in the limited time we had together during practice.  In the past, we always had kids come into our facility early, stay late, hang out, etc.  With Covid, it had to be get in, practice, and get out to avoid long periods of contact with one another.  All of our relationship building, teambuilding, leadership training, etc had to take place as part of our actual football practice.  While this is obviously not ideal, I attest a lot of our success with this to our staff recognizing this early and building an unorthodox plan.
 
 
 
 
Question 2 :
Despite being impacted by Covid issues, your team ripped through the regular season undefeated, beating long time nemesis Penn in the process, won your sectional and then lost a tight regional championship game to Merrillville.  Were you surprised at the level of success you enjoyed last season, or did you see this coming as you built through the consolidation process?
 
Answer 2
I was not surprised one bit at our overall success this past season.  I knew we would have a very talented roster and I felt very confident in our staff to be able to build a structure that would help get the most out of our kids.  We have great kids here in Elkhart who work hard and want to win.  I feel that this has been brewing for awhile here in Elkhart and we just needed to put the pieces together. We improved our win total at Elkhart Central from 4 wins in 2017 and 6 wins in 2018 and 9 wins in 2019.  We knew that Elkhart Memorial had a very good and experienced Senior class with high level talent.  What I was surprised most by was our execution early in the season.  While I am not surprised that we were winning games, I was very pleasantly surprised at how quickly our players picked up our systems of offense, defense and special teams.  With no off-season and no workouts/practices in July, along with half of the players not knowing any part of our systems, it was incredible to see how quickly our guys picked things up, which is a testament to their hard work, dedication and desire to be successful.
 
 
 
 
Question 3 :
There has always been a lot of talent in Elkhart, but it never quite manifested itself fully during the Central and Memorial eras.  How did you and staff pull all that talent together so quickly, and then implement systems that your kids executed so successfully during the regular and post seasons?
 
Answer 3
I may have answered parts of this question in earlier answers, but I agree with you that there has always been talent here in Elkhart.  When I left Seymour after the 2016 season to come to Elkhart Central, that was the very first thing I recognized when I turned on the tape.  As many coaches and fans know, there is just so much more that goes into winning than talent.  I do think talent is a huge factor, having talent alone does not guarantee any level of team success in this sport.  The talent needs to be cultivated and pointed in the right direction.  In 2017, our mission was simply to stabilize and legitimize the program.  To do this, we needed to change the reputation that people had about Elkhart Central football, which was exactly what you said in your question; Elkhart had a lot of talent but hadn't manifested itself into team success in recent years. Our last season at Elkhart Central (2019), we were 9-3 with two close losses to Mishawaka and a 2 point road loss to Penn. While we still needed to get over the hump, we felt like we had stabilized and legitimized the program and had things pointed in the right direction to wrap up the program at Elkhart Central before the merger.
 
When the coaching hire was made for the newly merged Elkhart High School, we were ready to get going.  We had great meetings and built our staff and then Covid hit.  I think that the success that we had at Elkhart Central on the field, as well as a handful of our top level players going on to play in college gave us instant credibility with the kids from Elkhart Memorial.  There are not enough words to describe the gratitude I have towards those kids who spent the first 3 years of their high school football careers hating everything about Elkhart Central and our staff/players and then coming in and buying in right away to everything we are doing.  There are a lot of fierce rivalries out there, and I have been a part of some of them in my time at various places.  However, I don't think you will find a more fierce rivalry than the one Elkhart Central and Elkhart Memorial had.  Two schools in the same town and same school district.  They go to Elementary together and Middle School together before being split in High School.  To have them combine and have such a great season working together was incredibly uplifting to see and gives me hope that the future is bright.
 
 
 
 
Question : 4
What do you generally like to run as your core offensive and defensive philosophies from a scheme perspective?
 
Answer 4
I have been an option-minded coach since my 2nd year as a Head Coach, back in 2010 in northern Michigan.  We were exclusively a spread option team running Inside Veer, Outside Veer and Midline up there.  When I got to Seymour in southern Indiana in 2013, we kept that system and gradually started adding some true shotgun QB run components.  We had a Quarterback named Alan Perry that we started as a Freshman back in 2014 and he was as special of a football player as I can remember from the standpoint of what he was mentally capable of remembering and executing. We started running RPO's with Alan in the later part of the 2014 season and have carried that with us and evolved that aspect of our offense.  When we got to Elkhart Central in 2017, we ran almost exclusively option football like we did in northern Michigan much earlier.  It is my first belief that in year 1 at the high school level, you have to know what the coaching staff is most comfortable teaching because you don't have the luxury of knowing the ins and outs of your roster and the strengths of your players.  After our first season at Elkhart Central, it became very clear to us that pure option football was NOT the best way to get the most out of our student-athletes on that side of the ball.  We made a wholesale switch to a power spread offense that would help us get the ball to our best players in places for them to be successful.  The biggest change that this provided for us was allowing our QB to be the best passer that we had without having to be a great runner.
 
From a defensive perspective, we are not a program that hangs our hat on one particular defensive alignment.  With our athletes, we feel strongly about our ability to cover the pass with as few bodies as possible, which allows us to get extra hats into the box.  At the high school level, especially in the northern states, in my opinion,  you have to be able to run the ball and stop the run effectively to make deep postseason runs. We are multiple with our fronts but have had some very high level defensive lineman over the years.  Because of this, we feel best about being an even front team most of the time.
 
 
 
 
Question 5 :
You won't be able to sneak up on anyone this year after last year's tremendous success.  What is your outlook for The NIC, and is the conference as currently constructed providing a high enough level of competition to fully prepare your team for the tournament?
 
Answer 5
The NIC is such an interesting conference because of the variety of opponents that we see.  The first thing that stands out to me is the elephant in the room, which is Penn.  Their history of success and the way they run their program is simply unparalleled in our area.  They are absolutely top-notch in everything that they do and the way that they operate their program.  Coach Yeoman is an incredible coach and leader.  Penn will always be the team on our schedule that stands in the way of us achieving our goals.  I am not afraid to be fully transparent and public about the fact that we spend a lot of time trying to find ways to gain advantages against them in how we do things, which is a tall order.
 
From there, you have other very good programs in Mishawaka Marian and New Prairie.  Places with a ton of recent success and pride.  What Mike Davidson has done at Mishawaka Marian in his short time there is incredible.  They simply win football games.  Covid prevented us from playing them this past fall, but they had an unbelievable team and will continue to be a major player in our conference.  New Prairie is in the same boat when it comes to winning games.  They have such great pride in the community over there and play at such a higher level than their enrollment would indicate.  For a school with 1,000 kids, they get the most out of there players.  I also think that New Prairie is the toughest place to play.  No one goes in there and gets a win just by showing up at that place.
 
The South Bend schools have struggled in recent years but they always have the ability to put high level athletes on the field, which makes you uneasy in preparation.  Saint Joe has had a couple of tough years, but they were very good as recently as 2018 and are fully capable of getting back to that level.
 
The conference gives us a wide variety of looks, which I think is extremely helpful for post-season play.  We see powerful teams like New Prairie, extremely athletic teams like Adams, true spread teams like Misahwaka Marian, and the traditional powerhouse program in Penn.  
 
 
 
 
Question 6:
You open the 2021 season with 4 non conference games against schools in lower classes.  What is your general approach to non con scheduling, and will we see Elkhart possibly reaching out to either top end private schools or perhaps some of the big Indy 6A schools ?
 
Answer 6
Non-conference scheduling is very difficult for us because of the fact that it is the first 4 weeks.  Weeks 1 and 2 are not difficult to find opponents, but weeks 3 and 4 are extremely tricky due to most teams across the state being locked into conference play by that time.  
 
Our Week 1 game is against Concord, which is only 4 miles from our field.  It is a great game for our local community and one that should provide our Athletic Department with a great deal of gate and concession money when we host.  Concord is traditionally a very very good team and program with a lot of success and top level talent.  Coach Koehler is a very good friend of mine and he does a great job there.  This will always be a great game for both teams to be able to open in front of that kind of atmosphere.
 
Our Week 2 game is currently Mishawaka, which is obviously another very good opponent that we have a ton of history with.  With Mishawaka leaving the NIC after the 2019 season, we wanted to keep this long-standing game alive as a non-conference game.  We have had incredible games with the Cavemen over the years.  Coach Kinder and I were reminiscing the other day and realized that the last 4 times we have competed against one another, the game ended as a 1 score game. Playing against the triple option and how well they run it over there at Mishawaka is a huge challenge for our players and coaches.
 
Our Week 3 game this year is against the newly merged Hammond Morton team.  This is a great matchup for both teams in similar situations with recent school mergers.  We will both provide one another with a great deal of athleticism and speed, so that is an exciting game.
 
When it comes to future scheduling, we are doing our best to try and find the balance between ramping up our schedule but being smart about it.  For us to be successful in generating revenue, we can't fill all of our non-conference games with teams that won't get fans to our stadium when we host.  Because of this, we need to find teams that make for a great game but also get people in the stands, which is a delicate balance. 
 
Starting in 2022, we have a 2 year contract with Carmel, who will replace Mishawaka as our Week 2 opponent.  We will host Carmel at Rice Field in Elkhart in 2022 and travel to Carmel in 2023.  We feel like this is a much needed game for us to be able to see a powerhouse Indy school early in the year to help build our expectation.  Carmel is not only one of the best programs in Indiana, but in the entire Midwest as well.  Our goal is to expand our brand here in Elkhart, and in order to do that, you have to schedule games like these.
 
 
 
Question 7 :
You graduated a lot of key contributors off of last year's team.  Who are some of you top returning players offensively and defensively who will be your main difference makers on Friday nights in 2021?
 
Answer 7
We graduated 19 of our 22 starters from the 2020 team, so to say we will be young/inexperienced is an understatement.  However, our major theme for this season is to "Meet The Standard" that has been set for our program.  The 2020 season at Elkhart High set the tone for what our expectations are.  The number of returning starters or production will never have an impact of the standards and expectations that we have year in and year out.  Our 2021 team will be very different from our 2020 team, but the expectations will not.
 
Our lone returning starter on Defense is Javin Lowe.  Javin is an interior Defensive Lineman who was an honorable mention All-NIC performer in 2020.  His a phenomenal player who will lead our defense this season.
 
On offense, we have two returning starters, both of whom are Wide Receivers.  Donye Higgins returns as our slot receiver and Donovan Johnson returns as an outside receiver for us. Donovan was an honorable mention All-NIC player in 2020 and he is really the heart and soul of our offense.  He is a big time player who had his best games in our most crucial moments in 2020.  We are looking for big things from both of these guys in 2021, and we will need it.
'
 
 
Question 8:
Strong feeder systems and youth programs  are critically important towards the development of the best high school programs in Indiana. How would you describe your feeder system in Elkhart, and have you reached a point where the lower levels are in sync with the varsity programs in terms of style of play and systems utilized?
 
Answer 8
We have a youth football program here in Elkhart called the Elkhart Youth Football League (EYFL).  I am a non-voting board member of the EYFL, which has been very good over the years.  When I first arrived in Elkhart in 2017, the youth league was in a difficult spot because it served as a feeder for two high schools.  When those two schools have different philosophies, schemes, etc, it becomes a tricky situation for the youth league to have a direction.  I worked extremely hard to build relationships with the stake-holders of the youth league and to build trust that my vision for the Youth league wasn't all simply in my personal best interests, but the best interests of the kids who played  in the league.  Obviously, with our schools merging, it has become much easier to point the Youth League into one direction when it comes to overall philosophy and scheme because there is only one high school and one high school head coach.  The EYFL unfortunately was unable to have a season in the fall of 2020 due to Covid-19, but we feel good about the direction that we are going when it comes to Youth Football here in Elkhart.
 
We have two middle school programs here in Elkhart and they are part of our school system.  I am not sure how other schools do it, but I am responsible for overseeing our Middle School programs from a staffing and structural perspective.  I work hand in hand with the Middle School Athletic Directors to make sure we are on the same page.  Our two Middle School staffs are an extension of our High School staff and both programs run our systems of offense and defense.  This gets tricky once per year when they play against one another, but that is a small obstacle in comparison to the advantages of having kids come in knowing the base systems as well as the base standards and expectations that our program has.
 
I will be honest and admit that unifying and streamlining our program at the Elementary thru Middle School levels is where we have the most work to do.  The dust is still settling on our school merger and I would by lying if I said that everything is in perfect alignment.  Turnover of staff and administrators, new policies, new school schedules, etc are all things that need to be ironed out, but it is my job to find solutions to these issues and continue to work toward unifying everything that we are doing from a football program perspective.  For year 1 of our merger just now concluding and dealing with an unexpected global pandemic, I do feel like we are in a good position overall to move forward in this regard.
 
 
 
Question 9 :
The south, and the MIC in general, has owned Class 6A since its inception.  The Region, Fort Wayne and your area of North Central Indiana all have challengers to the 6A throne, but have not shown any indication of a pending breakthrough.  What will it take for a northern school to take down The MIC and bring a state championship back to The North?
 
Question 9
This exact question is my entire motivation and what keeps me up at night.  Some people give coach-speak or throw their hands up and say "it is what it is" when it comes to Indy, and more specifically MIC dominance in 6A when it comes to championships.  In my opinion, there two major obstacles that 6A schools outside the Indianapolis area have, and I am not afraid to talk about them bluntly.  
 
#1 is scheduling.  I am a firm believer that you are a product of what you are exposed to over time.  The Indy schools have schedules that are full of nothing but teams that can beat you on any given night. Over time, this creates a "cream always rises" situation where teams are fighting for ways to keep up.  Outside of Indy, 6A teams like us, Penn, Region school and Fort Wayne simply don't have the ability to fill our schedules with nothing but 6A teams.  Our solution to this is to schedule these teams in the summer so that our kids are exposed to the top teams.  This summer, we have competed against Valparaiso (5A but very good and have been 6A recently), Lafayette Jeff and Lawrence North.  Later this month, we will compete against Brownsburg, another 6A team with recent success. We don't have the ability to simply schedule 9 different 6A teams in the regular season, so traveling to Indy in the summer is the next best thing.  As I mentioned in an earlier answer, we have scheduled Carmel in 2022 and 2023 to help with this same issue.
 
#2 is Strength & Conditioning.  At the risk of sounding whiny, I will just make a factual statement that the Indy schools are light years ahead of us, and many other schools in Indiana, when it comes to the investment in S&C.  Here in Elkhart, our football staff is 100% responsible for the entire strength & conditioning program for our football players.  We do not have a Strength & Conditioning teacher or someone on a subcontract to come in and work with our players.  I have spoken at length with a couple of colleagues who are Head Coaches at 6A Indy schools and they are in utter shock when I describe what it is like for many schools up here.  The investment that Indy schools, and others, have made to Strength & Conditioning for all student-athletes (not just football players) is incredible.  Due to our situation with school funding here in Elkhart, I do not see our situation changing much any time soon.  We lift and have a comprehensive approach like everyone else, but it is the responsibility of our football staff entirely, which becomes difficult if you have coaches in various buildings, coaches who work outside the school system, etc.  When you have a full time S&C coach, that person's entire job is to make kids stronger, faster and more athletic.  For us in Elkhart, that job falls on top of running the entire football program.  Indy 6A powerhouses are way ahead in this aspect.
 
With these two things said, it is 100% my job as our head coach to come up with solutions to close the gap with Indy schools.  In reality, a team from our area would not see an Indy team until the semi-state.  Penn has had plenty of success at the Semi-state level over the years, but like everyone else outside of Indy, has been unable to win it all.  I do think that in a one game situation, anything is possible and it's up to the coaches of programs outside of Indy to recognize where our disadvantages are and work tirelessly to find solutions.  Throwing our hands up in the air and saying "it is what it is" is like waving a giant white flag to 6A Indy schools, which sets the rest of us back even further.  I can tell you that in our program our staff is constantly seeking ways to make the most out of the advantages we have and close the game of the disadvantages that we incur. Time will tell if we are successful in that approach.
 

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LOVE his answers and honesty.  LOVE that he owns the responsibilities he spoke of.  Great interview.  Best wishes Coach and Elkhart!

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I find it very interesting that the last 3 big school North coaches interviewed, when asked the standard question about the dominance of Indy schools, mentioned the huge disparity in strength & conditioning programs as a primary contributing factor.  It seems to me that is something readily fixable, if you’re willing to shift some priorities around.

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One of the best in our area no doubt, really like what he has done in Elkhart and was surrounded by some great assistants that have been rewarded this year by being given hc jobs themselves now. 

I hope they keep building on their success this last fall, adding Carmel is a good start!

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On 7/2/2021 at 6:08 PM, Bobref said:

I find it very interesting that the last 3 big school North coaches interviewed, when asked the standard question about the dominance of Indy schools, mentioned the huge disparity in strength & conditioning programs as a primary contributing factor.  It seems to me that is something readily fixable, if you’re willing to shift some priorities around.

How many Northern Indiana Athletic Directors are tuned into that fact?  How does a coach elicit that "shift of priorities"?  It seems that a lot of athletic directors, administrators, and superintendents like to use the following phrase when asked about facilities, coaches pay, weight program and room,....."well what we have is comparable to those in our conference"

You can make the argument, and I've heard Kevin Vanderbush (Ben Davis's Strength Coach) make it in articulate detail about how a Strength coach with a adequately sized room is financially responsible not just feasible.  1 person with a couple of athletic interns (older experienced students) can handle 70 students an hour.   That's 3 teachers with a salary and benefits and health care costs that the school doesn't need hire to house those students for 5 to 6 periods a day.  That's beyond the obvious benefits of students learning to be strong and healthy for the rest of their lives.   

So how does a coach get past " well what we have is very comparable to those in our conference"  when for many coaches in Northern Indiana, that is probably a true statement? 

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On 7/2/2021 at 11:06 AM, DE said:

LOVE his answers and honesty.  LOVE that he owns the responsibilities he spoke of.  Great interview.  Best wishes Coach and Elkhart!

Couldn’t agree more.  Transparent as hell.  Sounds like a “what you see is what you get” kind of guy and someone kids love to play for.

Also love them adding Carmel in a home/home.

Elkhart just gained a fan.

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4 minutes ago, temptation said:

Couldn’t agree more.  Transparent as hell.  Sounds like a “what you see is what you get” kind of guy and someone kids love to play for.

Also love them adding Carmel in a home/home.

Elkhart just gained a fan.

Only way, IMHO.

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