Week 2 preview: Radtke gave Shaffer first coaching job, will coach against him Friday
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Knox (0-1) at Rochester (0-1), 7:30 p.m.
Ron Shaffer’s football coaching career, his “baptism by fire” as he calls it, started in 1994.
He was a college student at Huntington College – the school is called Huntington University today – when Griffith coach Russ Radtke hired Shaffer as an assistant offensive line coach.
Radtke did not just employ Shaffer but he also let him live in the family home during two-a-day practices in August.
It’s approximately 125 miles between Huntington and Griffith, so once the season started, Radtke would often send game film through the mail for Shaffer to break down. On Fridays, Shaffer would make the trip to wherever Griffith was playing and join Radtke and the team there.
Shaffer’s introduction to coaching was a lesson in excellence. Griffith went 11-2 and won a regional title in 1994 before falling to Tipton in the semistate. Shaffer would again stay at the Radtke home on weekends and drive back to Huntington on Mondays.
Shaffer marveled at Radtke’s preparation. He said he’s a “master” and recalls sleepless nights watching film to get ready for opponents. Shaffer said Radtke seemed to know the opponent each week as well as he did his own team.
Shaffer stayed for one year at Griffith before his coaching travels took him to Lewis Cass, Maconaquah and Rochester. Finally, 27 years after Radtke gave him his first coaching job, Shaffer will coach against Radtke at Barnhart Field Friday in his first home game as a high school head coach when the Zebras host Radtke’s Knox team.
Radtke’s 374 career wins rank him second behind Sheridan’s Larry “Bud” Wright among active coaches in the state and in the top 30 among active coaches nationally. He has won 20 sectional titles. His 1997 Griffith team won the Class 4A state title.
“He’s done a lot of the same things he’s done everywhere he’s gone,” Shaffer said. “He’s going to run the football, and he’s going to try to play good defense. And if you can run the football and control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, you can win a lot of ballgames. And he’s done that about everywhere he’s gone. … He has a toughness about himself and a toughness that he ingrains into his players, and it probably comes back from his dad working in the steel mills in Gary and up there in the Region. Russ is a hard-nosed guy, and his teams reflect that.”
Radtke, who has also had coaching stops at North Judson and Connersville before he was the Griffith coach and New Prairie after, arrived at Knox in June 2020. He is in his 45th season as a high school head coach, but he could find himself in an unusual position if Knox loses this game.
Radtke has not had a losing season since Connersville went 2-7 in 1990. A Radtke-coached team has not started 0-2 since Griffith started that way in 2010. And Knox has not had a losing season since 2014.
But Knox started last week with a 35-14 loss at home to Winamac and could not stop Winamac fullback Hayden Clark, who ran for 175 yards and three touchdowns on eight carries.
That could be an issue as Rochester’s go-to running back last week was fullback Alex Deming, who ran for 235 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-26 loss to Southwood last week. Rochester had 386 yards of offense as a team. But their inability to score on their first two drives was costly as they fell behind 13-0 in the first quarter and 20-6 at halftime.
“To stall out where we did, it is disappointing,” Shaffer said. “But the kids executed pretty well at times. We just got behind the chains a few times, and we’re not going to be a really great team on third-and-long. … But, you know, you’ve got to turn around and play good defense after those sudden changes. It’s something we’ve worked on ihere in practice this week, the idea of a mindset and when things change quickly and don’t go your way, you’ve got to get directed and going in the right direction. Some of our kids reacted to it better than others. … With maturity that will come along.”
The Knox offense is led by 6-4 junior quarterback Cohen Watson, who “throws a good ball” and is also a running threat.
So which team might respond better coming off a Week 1 loss? Shaffer was asked if high school football teams improve the most from Week 1 to Week 2.
“I think so, and here’s the reason why: You get exposed in Week 1,” Shaffer said. “Your weaknesses come out the most in Week 1, and you really don’t know what you have until the bullets are flying. And so they were in there, and we know ourselves better now after that first week, and we know what to emphasize: That we have to tackle better in space, that we’ve got to take better angles, that when we can, we’ve got to make good on those sudden changes.”
Shaffer said that Rochester will continue to go for a two-point conversion after every touchdown. He said Rochester has two potential kickers, but he is not ready to put either on the field to attempt a PAT or field goal yet.
“The kids really have approached this week in a pretty business-like fashion,” Shaffer said. “So it’s been a good week of preparation.”
Shaffer said the team is going through “some contact-tracing stuff,” but he said the team is otherwise healthy.