Tim Able is seeing his team manage great expectations the right way.
“It’s a day-to-day thing,” admitted Able, who will begin his 10th season as Triton Central’s head football coach Friday. “We are getting better. We had a lot of success at Milan (scrimmage) and didn’t get a big head about it. We came in and worked hard Saturday and had a good practice Monday.”
Following an 8-5 season in 2021 that backed three consecutive 10-win campaigns, Able knew his youthful group that dealt with several key injuries beat the teams they were supposed to beat and lost to the teams that were just more physical.
Those five losses are keeping his talented Tigers grounded for now.
A maturing quarterback is making that happen as well. Ready for his second season as Triton Central’s starting quarterback, Jace Stuckey has matured into a coach and leader on the field after an offseason full of college campus visits.
“It was really fun. I thank my parents for giving me those opportunities and taking me to those places and all the coaches that reached out to me,” said Stuckey (photo), who threw for 1,386 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore.
Able, who has won eight sectional titles over his first 28 years as a head coach and the 2000 Class 4A state championship with East Noble, has watched Stuckey, now six foot, three inches and 180 pounds, develop into a top flight quarterback.
“He has the potential to be the best I’ve ever had,” said Able.
Stuckey has a stronger and more experienced offensive line to work behind in 2022 and a wealth of explosive athletes at his disposal.
Junior running back Ray Crawford (5-9, 180) has eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in each of his first two seasons at Triton Central and proved to be a dangerous receiver out of the backfield last year, hauling in 24 catches for 433 yards. He ran for 1,273 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore.
“I’ve been doing this since I was 6 years old,” said Crawford (photo). “I am comfortable with it. I’ve played receiver and running back and I am used to both now.”
Crawford admitted he is chasing a season with 2,000 all-purpose yards.
Able envisions a two-pronged rushing attack with junior Brayden Wilkins (6-0, 175) fully healthy after an injury-plagued sophomore year. Wilkins broke Triton Central’s 200-meter dash record during the spring track and field season.
Senior Brad Schultz (5-9, 170) will be everywhere. The speedster was injured in week two of the 2021 season and was never healthy the rest of the way. He spent the offseason playing 7-on-7 with Stuckey which should pay off on Friday nights this season.
“We put in a lot of hours over the summer and we are meshing well,” said Schultz (photo).
Despite being sidelined more than he wanted in 2021, Schultz still led Triton Central in receptions (26) and receiving touchdowns (4) while rushing for 188 yards and two TDs.
“He never got a five-day week last year,” said Able, who praised his senior’s speed and ability to find open windows down the field to get open.
“It was awful. I hated watching my team lose,” said Schultz of the 2021 injury. “It’s rough when you are playing but it’s even worse when you can’t even help.”
As defenses key on Schultz, Crawford and Wilkins, that will free up opportunities for Luke Faust (6-3, 175), Chase Chandler (6-0, 175) and Jared Schweitzer (6-0, 180) to impact games.
Faust, a senior, gives Stuckey a big target that can work his way down the field. Chandler, a sophomore, and Schweitzer, a senior, will share tight end duties.
“We can spread the ball around,” said Able. “We just have to try and figure out what to do each week and every week based on the opponent.”
The offensive line has more depth which gives it versatility.
Senior Hadyn Ball (6-0, 205) takes over the center’s role with sophomores Andrew Bailey (5-11, 200) and Nick Riggins (5-10, 185) at the guards and senior Aidan Wasson (6-4, 240) and sophomore Willie Baugh (6-0, 230) at the tackles.
“We only had one key loss from the line last year and that’s Jayden Mays,” said Wasson (photo). “We’ve been able to not have to relearn everything but grow off that. And everyone is bigger and stronger which I believe was our biggest weakness as a team last year. So to be able to put in the plays we need and execute the way we should, that is a good thing.”
Senior Aden Sosbe (6-0, 250) will be a fixture on the defensive line but also will be part of the offensive line when the team needs more power up front.
“We’re going with the smaller guards this week to block the linebackers more,” said Able. “Sosbe is more of a mauler but he will be in there.”
Triton Central’s offense could be its best defense. Points should be plentiful which takes pressure off the defense to produce shutouts.
Sosbe will anchor the defensive line with Wasson and junior Courtney Dunville (6-1, 210) offering speed and length. Bailey, Ball and senior Mitch Ryan (6-4, 230) also will be in the rotation.
“We are long and quick on the defensive line,” said Able.
Sam Kemper (5-10, 200), a junior, and senior Lucas Kleeman (5-7, 175), TC’s leading tackler in 2021, lead the linebacker group that also will include the two starting running backs in Crawford and Wilkins.
“We are basically the same defense but we’ve grown a lot over the summer in the weight room,” said Kleeman (photo).
Chandler and Schweitzer are the starting safeties while juniors Levi Dewey (5-9, 135) and Mason Compton (5-10, 150) take the cornerback positions.
Schultz does not have a defined role but can slot in at linebacker or defensive back where needed the most.
Dewey, an all-state kicker in 2021, returns to give Triton Central extended field goal range when the offense does not reach the end zone.
Schultz will handle the punting duties this season.
Triton Central opens the 2022 season at home at Bud Mendenhall Field against Cascade in what is expected to be the two programs’ final meeting as Indiana Crossroads Conference foes.
Cascade is leaving the ICC to join the Western Indiana Conference in 2023.
The Tigers won the 2021 meeting at Cascade, 45-7.
Triton Central took a 7-0 lead on the opening possession when Stuckey connected with Crawford on a 62-yard scoring strike but the Cadets needed one play to tie the game.
All-ICC running back Liam Farmer raced 68 yards untouched but was relatively ineffective the rest of the contest. Farmer returns for what Able expects to be a run-heavy Cascade offense led by freshman quarterback Brady Trebley.
“We saw (Trebley) last year in eighth grade. He’s very good,” said Able.
Farmer accounted for more than 50% of the Cadets’ offense in a 3-7 season for then second-year head coach Connor Simmons (6-15 career record). The physical running back finished with 116 yards against Triton Central but had just 48 yards after the long scoring run.
The Tigers take to the road in week two traveling east to New Castle, 2-8 last season including 1-6 against Hoosier Heritage Conference opponents.
Week three is the early marquee matchup for Triton Central when Class A, No. 1 Lutheran, the defending state champions, come to Mendenhall Field for an ICC showdown.
Triton Central heads to Monrovia in week four looking to avenge a 38-14 loss in 2021.
Indian Creek travels north to Fairland in week five ahead of four straight ICC contests – at Ritter, at Scecina and home games with Beech Grove and Speedway – to close out the regular season.
In his first nine seasons at Triton Central, Able has led the Tigers to the sectional championship game each year. That will prove challenging in 2022 with a Sectional 39 grouping that includes traditionally-strong programs at Scecina and Brownstown Central.
The rest of the Sectional 39 field includes Brown County, Christel House, Clarksville, Eastern (Pekin) and Switzerland County.
Cascade at Triton Central
Game time: 7 p.m. at Mendenhall Field in Fairland, Ind.
TC student section theme: Hawaiian.
Head coaches: Connor Simmons, 6-15 in third year at Cascade; Tim Able, 80-32 in 10th year at TC, 205-130 in 29th year overall.
2021 record: Cascade 3-7; Triton Central 8-5.
2021 final Sagarin Ratings: Cascade, 30.09, 225th overall, 40th in Class 2A; Triton Central, 53.86, 114th overall, 14th in 2A.
Last year: Triton Central won 45-7 at Cascade. Quarterback Jace Stuckey threw for 168 yards and four touchdowns in his varsity debut. Ray Crawford ran for 94 yards and caught two touchdown passes totaling 117 yards.
Last 10 years: Triton Central leads series 3-0.
Around the ICC Friday: Class A, No. 1 Lutheran (15-0 in 2021) at Beech Grove (3-7); Monrovia (7-4) at 2A, No. 15 Ritter (1-10); Phalen Academy (1-5) at 2A, No. 7 Scecina (10-4); 2A, No. 18 Speedway (9-3) at Class A, No. 4 Covenant Christian (7-5).