The season hasn’t even kicked off yet, but already, second-year Whitko head football coach Chip Coldiron can point to differences between this one and his rookie one.

“We haven’t had to cram everything in,” Coldiron said this week. “We had all summer. I know them better and they know me. The kids know what I’m talking about, and I can tell better when they’re not understanding.”

Coldiron didn’t get the Whitko job last year until late July, merely a month ahead of the season’s start, following the late-June resignation of Phil Jensen.

This time around, Coldiron and the Wildcats were able to take full advantage of their summer calendar together. There were the regular practices allowed by the IHSAA, three days of weight lifting per week, and the tasting of competition against other schools. Whitko faced about a half-dozen clubs during a rotational scrimmage at Tri-Central and participated in a three-way at Heritage.

“I’m confident in saying if we can stay healthy, we’ll be better than last year,” Coldiron said. “I’m ready to see how much improvement we’ve made.”

To be sure, there’s plenty of room for it.

The Wildcats closed 1-9 last fall, leaving them 6-44 over the last five years, a period in which they’ve had five head coaches.

Participation levels remain an issue — just 20 players were on the roster at the start of this week — but like he was able to do last year, Coldiron is hopeful about adding several late arrivals at a rural school where summer transportation’s an issue for some students.

As it is, Coldiron has, in relative terms anyway, a hearty sophomore class of nine, while among the seven players across the upper two classes, there’s a decent sprinkling of experience.

After dabbling last year with both a wing–T offense and a hybrid of I-formation with spread, the Wildcats are looking to go with a more customary spread this season.

“We have a lot more speed and instead of trying to be a power team, we’re going to try to make teams tackle in space,” Coldiron said.

Junior Jack Hill, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 1 last fall, and senior Cody Adkins are competing to land quarterback duties.

“They both understand the offense and are very athletic,” Coldiron said, “and whoever wins the job, the other one’s going to start at receiver.”

That other one will likely be joined at wideout by senior Ethan Wunder, sophomore Trevor Freel and freshman Preston Furar. Sophomore Grady Branning’s a possibility at tight end when Whitko utilizes one.

At running back, juniors Dean Boggs and Skyler Zellers are slotted to split time.

Zellers, a move-in from Iowa last February, “has played football for a long time and could be a nice surprise,” according to Coldiron, one who will also start at linebacker and probably handle punting and kicking duties.

Boggs, besides being an All-Three Rivers Conference honorable mention selection at defensive back last fall, carried 31 times for 100 yards.

Up front on offense, Isaac Irwin and Guy Howard bring experience despite being just sophomores. Seniors Troy Herrara and Owen Obbs are projected to join them as starters, with the fifth spot to be determined.

Irwin, Howard and Obbs are each favorites to start on the defensive line as well, accompanied by Branning.

Though just a freshman, Lincoln Koser’s getting a hard look at middle linebacker, flanked by Zellers and Adkins.

Boggs, second on last year’s team with 69 tackles, including three for loss, is joined in the secondary by Wunder, Hill and Freel.

Among other notables on the roster are sophomore Zach Zellers, Skyer’s younger brother whose transfer is still being finalized, and freshman Lillian Coil, who gives the Wildcats a female in camp.

Coil’s not ready for Friday night play, at least yet, according to Coldiron, “but I love the way she’s hanging in there and never complains. She’s hustling and tackling and trying, and learning how to kick, and it’s great to have her.”

Whitko opens Aug. 19 by hosting Prairie Heights.