Paul Condry and Matt Kopsea
Since a youngster, Hunter Whitenack has been a huge fixture around New Prairie High School.
"There are so many special things from me being a ball boy for the football team since I was four years old to both of my parents attending New Prairie," recalled the 6-foot-8, 315-pound junior offensive lineman. "Growing up in a small town where everyone knows each other is also special because when I go out people come and talk with me. Sometimes I have no idea who they are, so I feel almost like a celebrity. I wouldn't trade that feeling for the world."
Going back to the start of his freshman campaign, Whitenack has been somewhat of a rock star up front by helping pave the way for the Cougars (5-3) to accumulate more than 11,000 total yards and 23 victories.
However, his talents are just not limited to the gridiron.
As it turns out, his dad, Bobby Whitenack, has helped him become a standout at the 285-pound division on the wrestling mat.
"It's awesome having my dad as a coach," Hunter said. "In football, he coaches the defensive lineman, so he isn't really coaching me during practice. During wrestling, he is the head coach, but Coach (Dan) Luther and Coach (Kenny) Eagle also work with me.
"My biggest influence would definitely be my dad. He has been pushing me extremely hard over the course of my life so I can be the most successful person I can be."
Although his sophomore campaign ended with a loss in the quarterfinals of the East Chicago Semistate, Hunter claimed sectional and regional crowns and amassed a school-record 41 pins in the process.
All of this success didn't come easy, though, as he had to shed over 50 pounds to be in shape to just be able to compete last year.
"I lost around 55 pounds to wrestle in a little over a month," Hunter explained. "The biggest challenge is limiting my food intake to very little and none on some days. In the end, though, it is 100 percent worth it. I enjoy winning and being with all my teammates.
"This year, I'm doing a better job of maintaining a healthier weight. I continue to keep my weight around 315 pounds instead of getting up to 340 pounds. It will be way easier losing 30 pounds instead of 55 pounds."
In the long run, he doesn't mind having to make a few sacrifices along the way to compete for both teams.
"There truly isn't a challenge since I love both sports so much," Hunter said, "They have been a huge part of my life. Football goes right into wrestling season, so the goal is for wrestling to start after Thanksgiving (end of November)."
Another figure he has enjoyed working with is new head football coach, Casey McKim, who has installed a new dimension to the program.
"Coach McKim has been great this season," Hunter said. "He brought the spread offense to New Prairie and I love it. The blocking schemes are similar to what many college programs are running. Practice is at a faster pace where we follow a daily agenda. There are also several new coaches that have changed up the coaching dynamics."
Having a standout like Hunter leading the charge up front has certainly made life a little easier for the first-year Cougar boss.
"First and foremost, Hunter is a competitor," explained McKim. "He has the mentality that he wants to dominate every single play. He is a student of the game who asks questions and wants to get better. Hunter is a vocal leader who holds himself and others to high standards. As a teammate, he pushes other players and is willing to help any time.
"I feel blessed to be able to coach a young man like Hunter. Not only does he have tremendous ability, but he brings a fire and competitiveness that makes it a joy to coach him."
Despite having a passion for both activities, Hunter has his future sights set on playing college football
"It's going to be extremely sad when I can't wrestle anymore," Hunter said. "That's why I have no problem dropping the weight to wrestle."
Although he has received a lot of interest from colleges because of his appearance, the University of Cincinnati was the first to make him an official offer.
"I was extremely excited when Cincinnati offered me," Hunter recalled. "I was in my room jumping up and down when I got the call. It meant so much because the hard work is starting to pay off. Now, my future will be what I make of it if I continue to work hard."