SOUTH WHITLEY – New Whitko football coach Chip Coldiron is almost 10 months removed from running for Congress — but he’s not done campaigning.

“Running for Congress taught me a lot of things I can use as a football coach, like forming a staff, learning to fund-raise and cold-calling,” said Coldiron, who lost his bid for the U.S. House of Representatives last November, after winning a four-candidate Democratic primary five months earlier.

“I’ve been cold-calling a lot of students,” the fittingly named Coldiron said last week.

The Wildcats’ fourth head coach over the last four years, Coldiron only got the job about three weeks ago, following the late-June resignation of Phil Jensen.

By late into summer workouts, the number of players joining Whitko assistants who remained on hand during the head coaching vacancy was down to about a dozen.

As of late last week, though, Coldiron had helped rally the roster to 28 with his cold calls and some recruiting at a back-to-school night, and he remained hopeful of upping the figure further.

Still, as might be expected with a relatively win-starved program experiencing frequent coaching turnover, there are a few individuals — at least three — who are not back this year for a variety of reasons despite being key non-senior players last year.

Coldiron is more focused on those who are present.

He’s not sure how many players are returning starters, but adds that he sees plenty of promise in plenty of players, with most of those likely to be two-way starters.

That begins with senior Izzy Kyles, Whitko’s lone returning All-Three Rivers Conference selection.

Kyles, who earned that spot as a receiver, paced the 4-6 Wildcats last fall with 27 catches, good for 444 yards, a 16.4 average and four touchdowns. He also ran the ball 36 times for 184 yards, a 5.1 norm and five TDs. On the defensive side, he led in interceptions at three.

Kyles will be a running back who gets “a lot of touches” this year, per Coldiron, besides playing “a lot of inside linebacker.”

Some of the other prominent two-way players are likely to include seniors Dalton Ousley at offensive line and nose tackle, Wyatt Slusher at fullback and outside linebacker, Devin Ulshafer along both lines, and Tyler Veach at tight end and inside linebacker, as well as sophomore Dean Boggs at running back and defensive line.

As a freshman, Boggs tied Veach for the team lead with three sacks last season. He was also third in total tackles at 41, while Veach was second at 48 and Ulshafer fourth at 33.

Junior Cody Adkins is penciled in at quarterback after serving as the backup a year ago. He was 5-of-11 throwing for 69 yards, one TD and no picks.

“He’s been a good leader the last couple weeks,” Coldiron said of the 6-foot-3, 175 pound Adkins. “He tries to get people into the right spots. He’s a tall kid with some arm strength and seems to throw the ball well.”

Nonetheless, Coldiron says his team will abandon last year’s spread offense and “run the ball a lot.” On defense, the Cats will employ a 3-4 look, similar to last fall.

Whitko opens the season Friday at Prairie Heights.

Coldiron, a rookie head coach who calls himself “a defensive guy,” was a high school assistant for seven seasons, the last three at alma mater Norwell, about a half-hour south of Fort Wayne.

He played on the first-ever University of Saint Francis team in 1998 before enrolling at Indiana University and graduating in 2004.

Saying he “felt a responsibility” to defend his country after 9/11, Coldiron then joined the U.S. Army. He served five years, including two deployments to Afghanistan totaling 28 months.

Coldiron, 42, and wife Candis have two sons, 5-year-old Cayden and 5-month-old Collin.

He says his bid for Congress was inspired by seeking affordable health care for all after Cayden was born with a small hole in his heart.

“He’s doing well. Every year, the hole gets smaller and smaller,” Coldiron shared. “The doctors have said by the time he starts kindergarten, he should be healed up.”

Coldiron, who’s also worked in healthcare, earned his master’s degree from IU in 2012. He’s taught high school science the last eight years and will teach that at Whitko.

“No, I’m a football coach and teacher at heart,” Coldiron said of whether he might seek congressional office again in 2022. “My goal was never to be a career congressman.

“I love that I’m coming to Whitko, and I’m grateful for the opportunity,” he said. “I’ve wanted to be a head coach and I’m going to put everything into it.”

With the Wildcats, Coldiron inherits a program that soared to last year’s 4-6 (3-5 in the TRC) on the heels of going 1-29 over the previous three years, although the teams they beat finished a combined 4-31.

“They’re a very enthusiastic group of kids,” Coldiron said when asked to assess his team in general and seniors in particular. “Very coachable and they want to win. I’d be hard-pressed to say I’ve been around a group that wants it more. They just want coaches that want to invest in them.”