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New coach has plenty of Mustang experience

Marty Slanoc, a former star football player at Portage Area High School, was named the program’s newest head football coach at a board meeting on Wednesday.

Slanoc called the position, “an ideal coaching condition.”

He will take over for Gary Gouse, who retired after 29 seasons as the Mustangs head coach with a record of 219-84.

Slanoc, 44, has been at Portage as a teacher and assistant football coach since 2005.

“Marty and I both played for Coach Gouse and had the chance to coach underneath him,” Portage athletic director Jeremy Burkett said. “Marty was a pretty important part of our defense over the years. He was able to learn from Coach Gouse, and we hope to continue what we learned from Coach Gouse.”

Burkett will also likely remain on the Portage football coaching staff.

“I’d like to,” Burkett said. “Coach Slanoc wants me to stay on board. I am an AD and assistant principal, so those time constraints hold me back sometimes. I’m hoping to continue to help him out on staff.”

Slanoc said being the head coach at the high school he attended is just now sinking in.

“It’s a little strange right now, because I have been coaching so long,” Slanoc said. “Now I’m the one helping out with boosters and making the decisions in order to progress. But, other than being in the weight room with the kids, there isn’t much to do yet, so it isn’t that much different.

“If I was going to stay in this area, I’m happy to be at the school where I was born and raised. Those are the kids I want to help. Those are the kids who are like me and are in the situations I was in when I grew up.”

The Mustangs won the WestPAC and represented the conference in the Appalachian Bowl against Heritage Conference champion Ligonier Valley this past season. Portage had a bye in the first round of the District 6 playoffs but lost its first playoff game.

“What Coach Gouse has done and what we’ve been able to accomplish as a staff the past 20 years has been great,” Slanoc said. “We want to continue that success and continue to build on it. But saying that, I have to make the program my own. I am replacing a legend, but I can’t do everything exactly the same as he did it. You can’t be somebody else. You have to be yourself.”

Portage will lose quarterback Connor Price and running back Gabe Forst, along with all-state lineman Jacob Irvin, to graduation.

“We’ve lost a lot of good players, but we do have some key starters that will be returning,” Slanoc said. “Scott Berardinelli should be our starting tailback, and we have a few lineman and skill position guys. We’ll be OK, but we definitely have some people we need to replace.”

Slanoc said one of his first priorities is to help make Friday nights during football season even more special in Portage.

“We’ve noticed as a staff it has gone down a little bit,” Slanoc said. “I’m not sure if that’s cyclical or how many students we have, but we want to get more involved in the community and get more people interested in the program. I don’t want to say re-energize it, because it’s pretty good, but we just want to work on our youth programs and make sure it’s the best it can be.”

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