A trio of 10-win seasons has not drastically improved the Triton Central football program’s roster size.
Success, though, has solidified a hard-working culture within the program, according to TC head coach Tim Abel.
“There is a high standard,” he said. “Some kids don’t want to go to four practices a week in the summer and be lifting (weights) year round. It takes a lot of sacrifice to be successful year in and year out.”
The 2021 football season will be Abel’s ninth at Triton Central. He is 72-27 over his tenure with three sectional titles and one regional title. More importantly, his Tigers have competed in a sectional championship game every year he has been in Fairland.
The next season will be Abel’s 29th as a head coach. He is three wins away from career win No. 200 (197-125).
“I hope 198 comes quicker than I think it will,” joked Abel. “When you’ve been doing it 28 years you eventually get to those numbers. It’s been a nice run.”
Abel reached a coaching pinnacle in 2000 when he led East Noble to the Class 4A state championship. The Knights defeated Plainfield, 28-7, to complete a 14-1 season.
“We had some really good kids and some really good coaches on that team,” recalled Abel. “Three other guys on that staff became head coaches.”
Abel has settled in at Fairland and developed a winning culture that is drawing more interest from college programs. Three seniors have signed their letters of intent to play football on Saturdays in the fall.
That kind of success creates the need to consistently replace Friday night performers. Abel is faced with that challenge again this year.
Triton Central loses a veteran quarterback in Erick Hebauf, a terrific group of linebackers and strength and skill from the offensive and defensive lines.
“We lost a lot from the line of scrimmage and the interior linebackers which is the heart of our offense and the heart of our defense,” said Abel, who surpassed both Bud Mendenhall (68-69-1) and Joe Fussell (70-82) last season to become TC’s career leader in victories.
Hebauf completed 49% of his pass attempts in 2020 for 920 yards and six touchdowns. He also ran for 11 touchdowns.
Abel’s offense was run-heavy and leaned on a freshman, Ray Crawford, to lead the way. Crawford carried the ball 204 times for a team-leading 1,303 yards and 13 touchdowns.
“He is a natural tailback that is patient watching his blocking,” said Abel. “He is real shifty and has good bursts.”
The power running came from senior Hayden Kermode, who had 530 yards on the ground and nine touchdowns.
Developing a new quarterback is a priority this offseason. One of the repercussions from losing much of the 2020 summer season to COVID-19 restrictions was the lack of time to develop younger QBs.
“We’ve got some athletes. Right now, we have two quarterbacks with some experience and two other athletes that could become quarterbacks,” said Abel. “We didn’t get enough experience this year for our backups. With COVID in June and July, our junior varsity kids got cheated. We will need June and July this year.”
Tristen Huffman and Jace Stuckey combined for one incomplete pass attempt and three carries for 13 yards at the varsity level in 2020. Stuckey took the most snaps as the JV quarterback, according to Abel.
“I feel good about our kids,” said Abel. “The challenge is to get the kids in the right positions because we will be so inexperienced.”
Seven seniors started on defense in the regional championship game. Six of the top seven leading tacklers were seniors.
Abel already has the program in full strength and conditioning mode and a new weight room at the school is nearly ready for athletes. The veteran coach also is excited to see football players competing in spring sports.
“We have a bunch of kids in track (and field) working speed and conditioning,” he said. “And we have a lot of kids not in a spring sport busting it in the weight room.”
With COVID-19 vaccines now being administered, Abel is hopeful 2021 will return to normal – especially for offseason workouts and preparation.
“We’ve got scrimmages set up,” he said. “Everyone in the state is planning on it (being back to normal).”
Triton Central will kick off the 2021 season on Aug. 20 with an Indiana Crossroads Conference game at Cascade.
The home opener follows on Aug. 27 when Greensburg comes to Fairland.