Legendary Former Griffith Coach Leads Undefeated New Prairie Into EC
By Nathan Laird
Watch live video of New Prairie
@ EC Central live Friday night
Radtke was 11-0 against EC Central
while at Griffith
The Regional round of the state tournament is usually a time when football fans in Northwest Indiana start to see unfamiliar opponents on the schedule. Teams like Jimtown, Fort Wayne Carroll, Bremen & Plymouth are rivals for one week and then forgotten about just as quick. It used to be that you could include New Prairie on that list.
The school, which lies just east of LaPorte in the community of New Carlisle, is far enough outside of even the broadest stretches of the term “Region” that they weren’t even an afterthought. Considering the Cougar program had only won one sectional title prior to this season, they might as well have been in Jeffersonville or Terre Haute – Region fans simply didn’t know, or care, much about New Prairie.
But that all changed in 2012 when former Griffith coach Russ Radtke left the Panther program to take over the reins at New Prairie. Now the Cougars have a Northwest Indiana following – and if you don’t believe me, check out our Facebook page. If we don’t have a New Prairie score update, there’s a contingent of people asking for it, which is more than we can say for many schools in the area.
With the 12-0 Cougars coming to East Chicago on Friday to take on the Cardinals, the game has more than the usual feeling surrounding the regional round of the tournament. For some, it’s the chance to see EC Central play in the school’s first ever regional, but for a lot of others it’s a chance to see the 300 plus game winner roam the sidelines in the Region one more time. Whatever the reason, Friday’s showdown at Pete Rucisnki Field has a special atmosphere about it – and seems like more than your typical regional game.
Just don’t ask Radtke to admit it as the coach. Not surprisingly, he downplayed the significance of his return to the Region.
“I’m not against it or scared of it, I know that. But, I do feel that we only coach the game that we’re in, so it doesn’t matter if you’re playing in Evansville or East Chicago, we’re going to play it with the same level of intensity,” Radtke said. “These kids don’t know it, they don’t understand it. They don’t know what the Region is and we’re not going to try to get them into the hype of it. Is this going to be an Andrean-Griffith game? Nope. This is just New Prairie vs. East Chicago and where its being played has really no effect on it at all.”
But whether the venerable coach thinks his presence in a game being played in Northwest Indiana is special or not, a large group of his former players think it is. Scott Reese, who played for Radtke at Griffith from 1993-1995will be heading to EC on Friday night to see and root for his former coach.
“Coach Radtke deserves nothing but respect and appreciation, especially from those who were fortunate enough to play for him,” Reese said.”
Other former players still haven’t decided if they’re rooting for their former coach or for the local squad.
“I’m torn between rooting for Russ and a Region team,” Kyle Krause, a member of the 1997 Griffith state championship team said.
Even though the coach maintains the location of the game doesn’t add anything extra, he is happy about at least one aspect of playing in the Region this week.
“I look forward to seeing some familiar faces of people from that area,” Radtke said. “We’ll have gold helmets on, so it’ll look a little familiar.”
You’re not alone if you’re surprised to see New Prairie entering the regional with a perfect mark in Radtke’s second year on the job. The coach has been amazed with how quick this group of kids has picked up the offense and has bought into the system.
“They’re a bunch of young men who have listened to every possible nook and cranny of information we’ve tried giving them,” Radkte said of his New Prairie squad. “They’ve executed it to the best of their ability that’s kind of unimagined. Every week how they have to adjust, make assignments and find a way to get things done, this would be something where you’ve been with them for seven, eight years, through the junior high program. How these kids have been able to do it in just two years…I’m still amazed.”
Part of the reason for the rapid success of the team in 2013 is the fact that the coaching staff is holding nothing back when creating their game plans.
“You think you’d try to limit the things you do. That’s probably what we did last year and it kind of hurt us a couple games, especially in the playoffs,” Radkte said. “This year, we’ve thrown everything at them but the kitchen sink, and I’ll do that this week.”
Even with his focus on leading a team ranked third in class 4A and has state championship ambitions, Radtke still finds time to keep an eye on what’s going on in the Region.
“We still keep track of Hammond, with Schreiber over there, and Morton with Roy and Andrean and all those guys,” Radtke said “We’re still in contact with each other and know what’s happening around that area. Every Friday night, you’re (90.5 FM WRTW) the only radio station we can get in with all the scores and find out what’s going on. We hear all of it and we look forward to it. When the lights go out after the game, there’s nothing else going on at night except listening to cowboy music or something like that, so we definitely keep following.”
Just as Radtke is staying up to date on what’s going on in the Region, fans of Northwest Indiana football are going to keep looking east to follow the future Hall of Famer, maybe even all the way to Indy.
Nathan Laird can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org