Tim Able will send what he believes to be the youngest team he has ever coached on to the football field Friday night at Cascade.
That’s a strong statement from the Triton Central coach now in his 29th year overall and three wins from career win No. 200.
“I’ve never had a team where basically two seniors are full-time players,” said Abel. “It is what it is. It’s a credit to our team that the kids stepped up to the plate and have been good.”
Jace Stuckey, a six-foot, three-inch sophomore, takes over at quarterback from the graduated Erick Hebauf (61-for-123, 1,806 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns).
“It’s his second season in the offense and he’s had all summer to learn it,” said Abel. “He does quite well with it. I can rely on him to run our No. 1 offense against our No. 1 defense in practice. And he has a little more experience and the size and strength to match it.”
Freshman Chase Chandler, the son of TC principal Cary Chandler, could see reps if Stuckey falters.
Leading rusher Ray Crawford (204 carries, 1,303 yards and 13 TDs) returns for his sophomore campaign with more pressure to spark the offense.
“He just needs to keep learning the system better and carry the ball like he can,” said Abel.
Crawford (photo) will be relied on to play defense in 2021 so there will be times when he is not in the backfield.
“He is going to have to take a breather once in awhile,” said Abel.
That is not a concern for the veteran coach who likes his depth chart with Lucas Kleeman, a junior, sophomore Sam Kemper, and senior Jaquan Blake ready for action.
Stuckey has a strong arm which could allow the offense to take more shots downfield this season. Brad Schultz (16 receptions, 235 yards), a junior, will be a key target as will sophomore Brayden Wilkins and senior Devon Emberton.
In addition, juniors Cooper Baugh and Aidan Wasson will be productive from the tight end position.
“We have good depth at the skill positions,” said Abel.
A veteran offensive line produced over 2,400 rushing yards and 1,800 passing yards in 2020. The line is in full rebuild mode in 2021 with senior Jayden Mays and junior Aden Sosbe leading the way.
The top four leading tacklers from 2020 graduated. Kleeman and Kemper, who combined for 31 tackles last season, take over as the starting inside linebackers.
Wilkins and Wasson are the starting outside linebackers.
“They are both new to the position but are athletic and long,” said Abel.
In the secondary, Crawford, Schultz, junior Tristen Huffman and sophomores Levi Dewey and Mason Compton will rotate through with Chandler and junior Jared Schweitzer competing for the free safety position.
Brogan Winslow will handle punting and kickoff duties while Dewey will be the field goal specialist.
Able has been remarkably consistent since his arrival in Fairland in 2013, averaging nine wins per season and playing for a sectional title each year. He led East Noble to the Class 4A state championship in 2000 and has guided Triton Central to three sectional titles and its first regional championship in 2019.
For a repeat performance in 2021 – the program has won 10 games each of the last three seasons – TC’s youthful group will have to mature quickly. For Abel that all starts in practice each Monday and builds throughout the week.
“The most important thing Friday is we play as best we can and come prepared,” said Abel. “We have to play each play like it’s our last.”
Triton Central defeated Cascade, 47-6 last season. Abel does not expect a repeat performance of the blowout now that head coach Connor Simmons is established after going 3-8 in his first season with the Cadets.
“They are no doubt going to be tougher,” said Abel.
The Tigers need to control Cascade’s inside rushing game to have success. That means focusing on junior running back Liam Farmer (25 carries, 119 yards in 2020).
“He is a good downhill runner … fast and strong,” said Abel.
Cascade has won more than five games in a season just once since 2006 – going 6-5 in 2013.
The Cadets are 0-2 against Triton Central since joining the Indiana Crossroads Conference in 2019.