The Triton Trojans open the high school football season Friday at Caston. Photo by Anthony Gadson, Times-Union
The Triton Trojans open the high school football season Friday at Caston. Photo by Anthony Gadson, Times-Union
BOURBON — After beginning the 2013 season with a win, things went south for the Triton High School football team, but second-year coach John Johns is banking on experience for a bounce-back season this year.
Key losses from the 2013 team include the graduated versatile running back/quarterback Cole Creighbaum, as well as Jayden Mosier, while lineman Ike Reichert opted to not play this year.
Johns does, however, have a lot returning, including eight offensive starters and seven defensive starters.
“I wish I still had those guys – but we definitely have a lot of kids coming in this year that are going to play some really good football,” Johns said.
Among the returnees is senior quarterback Grant Stichter, whose time under center was limited last season due to injury.
“He got banged up a little bit of the season last year, and Cole moved to quarterback,” Johns said. “Cole did a really nice job in there. Grant’s worked really hard this summer to get where he needs to be.
“He has a decent arm for throwing hard to short, quick routes,” Johns added. “He’s got good feet. He’s not afraid to run the ball. That makes him a definite threat, because he does have some speed.”
Seniors Nate Spangle and Jayden Hargrave will join Stichter in the backfield as running backs, while Johns says he’ll have some nice options in the receiving corps.
“We picked up some speed on the outer edge,” he said. “Last year, we had (Joey Corder) that we didn’t get in to play, but he’s playing this year. Joey’s a big kid, a big target (at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds). We also have (senior) Cordale Keyser, and he’s really fast with good, shifty hips. Jayden Hargrave, a good addition to the team, he’s got some really good hands too.”
And the targets may be there for Stichter, but he’s going to need to have time to find them. To do that, the offensive line will be of upmost importance.
“What it really boils down to is us up front and blocking for (Stichter),” Johns said. “We didn’t block very well last year. Throwing a football, I don’t care if you had five NFL receivers out here, if the quarterback’s on his back it doesn’t make any difference.”
The job of keeping Stichter upright will fall on senior left tackle Ryan Horn (6-1, 200) sophomore left guard Adams Stevens (5-8, 180), junior center Lane Stevens (5-10, 220), senior right guard Phillip Stepp (5-9, 160) and senior right tackle Justin Hefner (5-10, 240), with senior tight end Tristan Hunsberger (6-0, 190) also joining the unit from time to time.
“The line we had last year is pretty much intact, as we did lose the one kid that didn’t want to come out,” Johns said. “They have experience, but we are thin. I hope we can stay fresh and get a rotation established to get guys healthy and get them some breaks.”
Moving over to defense, Hunsberger and Adam Stevens will man the defensive end positions, with Hefner, Lane and Stepp also filling in up front.
The linebacking unit will be comprised of Hargrave, Spangle, junior Gage Waddle and freshman Max Slesher to begin the season, with  Keyser and Stichter at defensive back and Corder playing safety.
Triton will be without two starting defensive players in senior Trevor Kanarr and junior Jeremy Jones, as well as senior Charlie Steinman, for the first few games of the season for what Johns called “a combination of things.”
Those missing returnees will make it a little tougher for the team to get out of the blocks strong, but the schedule does allow the Trojans to ease into its Northern State Conference slate.
Opening the year against three fellow Class 1A teams in Caston, Northfield and Culver, Johns wants to see his guys clicking going into their Week 4 homecoming game against Bremen.
“What we’ve talked about is, we need to play well right off the bat,” Johns said. “We want to establish confidence to really test ourselves against people that are in the same boat we’re in.”
Following the Bremen game, things get tougher, as the Trojans travel to Class 3A John Glenn, followed by a home game against Class 4A New Prairie.
Following a game at LaVille and a home game against Knox, Triton’s regular season once again closes out with a road game at Jimtown.
With teams such as John Glenn, New Prairie and Jimtown on the schedule, some in the Triton area are happy to know this will be the final year of the NSC’s existence, as those three teams will join the Northern Indiana Conference and Triton moves into the newly-formed Hoosier North Athletic Conference.
“Switching conferences, to me, is going to benefit the athletes, as far as them competing with people week in and week out,” Johns said. “It’s going to be a good, competitive conference. We really haven’t talked about it much. We have another year here and some focus that we're dialed into.”
With that being said, Johns doesn’t like the mentality some have of dreading the games against the big boys.
“Our goal going in is to beat every team we play,” he said. “I know when you say stuff like that and you have Jimtown, New Prairie in our conference people think you’re a fool because there’s no way you can beat them. I’m of the belief that you play your hardest every single game and whatever happens in the end happens. That’s kind of what we’re looking for. When you say, ‘Ah, we don’t want to play them or we’re worried about playing them or afraid of playing them,’ it kind of takes away a little bit of your own swagger. Because you’re saying, ‘We’re OK with these guys, but we’re sure not OK with these guys.’”