Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Evan Wyse and Trine are hoping to finish the season undefeated and earn an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs with a win against Olivet on Saturday.
Friday, November 10, 2017 1:00 am
Thunder looking to stay perfect
Get automatic spot in playoffs with win
JOSH PATTERSON | For The Journal Gazette
Despite what coach Troy Abbs described as “drastic changes” in the college football recruiting landscape over the past decade, Trine has continued to win.
That success has ratcheted up this fall. Having finished 6-4 each of the last four seasons, the NCAA Division III No. 23 Thunder (9-0) enter the regular-season finale Saturday at home against Olivet.
A win would wrap up Trine's first unbeaten regular season since 2010, an outright MIAA conference title and an automatic berth in the D-III playoffs.
“We've found some areas in the state of Indiana and across the country that we can successfully recruit, and I think that's a huge reason why we've been able to have continued success,” Abbs said.
That's included recruiting the Fort Wayne area, because of both proximity and having quality high school programs. And when Trine focuses on a certain program, they recruit it heavily. Four athletes apiece from Bishop Dwenger's 2015 state championship team and New Haven's sectional championship squad in 2016 adorn the Thunder roster.
“You try to hit programs that have a tradition of winning,” Abbs said. “Those kids are going to come into your program with an understand of what it takes to win.”
Outside linebacker Matt Litchfield and wide receiver John Federspiel, teammates at Dwenger, took that bond one step further, opting to room together upon matriculating to Trine.
“I love it,” Litchfield said. “It was cool to know that when I was going to start this whole new chapter, John was going to be with me.”
That camaraderie among high school teammates has helped forge bonds among the Thunder roster, building upon what previously existed. As Dwenger alum and Trine linebacker Joseph Steigmeyer said, in coming from a successful program, there's an awareness of the effort needed to win consistently.
“I was very prepared for the (physicality of practice),” Steigmeyer said. “Just having people you know there also, you can have someone to talk to that knows where you're coming from, I think that helps out too.”
Continuity within the coaching staff has also played a role. Former coach and current athletic director Matt Land has been at Trine for 12 years, along with Abbs and wide receiver coach Jacob Kinzey. Inside linebackers coach Kenny Waugh has nearly a decade on staff, while offensive line coach Eric Ravellette, who won a FCS (formerly Division I-AA) national title as a player at Western Kentucky, is in his sixth season.
“We've had great ability to hold onto our coaches and keep the continuity with the football program,” Land said. “The expectations don't change; the philosophy doesn't change and the traditions carry on. Coach Abbs has taken it to new heights.”
A focus on improving Trine's athletic facilities – part of a campus-wide initiative to bring the school into the “22nd century,” as Land said, has helped the Thunder stay competitive as well. Fred Zollner Athletic Stadium, home to Trine football, lacrosse and soccer, opened in 2010, actually making it one of the oldest on campus.
“We were a World War II-era small private school when I got here, and our president and board of trustees had the vision to take it to the next level,” Land said. “When we built things, we had a vision of 10 years from now. We didn't build to catch up, we built to take the lead.”
While the facilities help attract players, this year's success stems from a commitment to the running game on offense and stopping the run defensively. Running back Lamar Carswell and quarterback Evan Wyse each average over eight yards per carry for an offense gaining 6.4 yards per rush.
On defense, a focus on playing fast and physical fits perfectly for Keaton Osborn, a defensive lineman from East Noble, a program known for its physicality. While the Thunder have averaged 48.1 points on offense, the defense has surrendered just 13.6 points and 291.9 yards.
“We have some of the same (players as last season), but the chemistry is unheard of,” Osborn said. “With college football being so physical all the time, you have to have trust with each other and I think we have that. I think that's what's been separating us.”