Triad head football coach Paul Bassler likes an offense that grounds and pounds, but after losing four starting linemen to graduation, he wasn’t sure who would be doing the pounding this season.
But the Knights are off to a 4-0 start, have beaten their opponents by an average score of 31-14, and have still only attempted seven passes all year.
Bassler’s triple-option offense has remained successful, he says, because of three things: outstanding play by the offensive line, an intelligent quarterback who knows where to dish the ball, and senior running back Adam Nelson.
Behind that revamped line, Nelson has racked up 699 rushing with 12 touchdowns on just 62 attempts — that’s an average of 11.3 yards per carry and 175.8 yards per game. In the Knights’ 35-14 win over Waterloo Friday, the BND Athlete of the Week carried 16 times for 155 yards and four touchdowns.
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Nelson deflects all credit for the Knights’ monster ground game to an offensive line that includes center Christian North, guards Gage Ozee and Zach Mathenia, and tackles Ryan Holcomb and Zach Leone.
Adam can get in the open, find a little crack and, if somebody makes a bad read or misses their assignment, he is gone.
Triad head coach Paul Bassler
“It’s really a testament to our offensive line,” Nelson said. “I can’t tell you how hard those guys work and I think they get better every week. They make holes for me to run through.”
Nelson isn’t the only one finding holes — quarterback Tommy Bauer has put the ball in the hands of 10 different ball carriers, the top five of which average at least 4.1 yards per carry. The multiple weapons makes the Triad option all the more effective, but Nelson’s speed is what makes it dangerous.
It’s a “God-given ability,” Bassler said, that has qualified Nelson twice for the finals of the 100-meter dash at the IHSA State Track Meet.
“You know what they say, you can’t teach speed,” said the 18th year coach.
Nelson scored Friday against Waterloo on touchdown runs of 22, 40, 43 and 24 yards. It was his third multiple-touchdown game. In a season-opening win over Mattoon, he racked up 234 yards on touchdown runs of 19, 54, 44 and 33 yards. The next week against Collinsville, he had runs of 54 and 81 yards.
“Our offense is a fast break offense, to put it in basketball terms,” Bassler said. “We try to get the ball moving and make reads fast. Everything is really fast.
175.8 Adam Nelson’s average rushing yards per game. At that rate he’ll set new Triad records for yards rushed in a season and in a career by week 8.
“Adam can get in the open, find a little crack and, if somebody makes a bad read or misses their assignment, he is gone,” Bassler said. “Especially with teams loading the box against us, once he hits the secondary, there’s nobody left back there and nobody is going to catch him from behind either.”
Listed at just 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, Nelson’s speed is his best asset for advancement to the next competitive level. It’s a leap he can make, Bassler said, if a school will take the chance on his size.
“He’s got the speed to play Division I and I think he could be a really good slot-type receiver of a defensive back at that level,” Bassler said. “I know he’s kind of undersized because schools have a cookie-cutter mold in mind when they recruit. But he can go anywhere from Division II or up. Somebody just has to take a chance on him.”
Nelson’s current nine-game pace would leave him with 1,582 rushing yards, which tops Adam Weeks’ single-season school record of 1,361 set in 2005. That total would also put Nelson about 200 yards past Shane McBride, whose 3,161 yards remains the career rushing mark.
Even if he can can’t keep that pace up, the Knights’ 4-0 start has given them a head start on a prolonged season. Nelson may get extra games if he needs them.
“I believe in my team. We’ve always been good and we knew we had the potential,” he said. “We still have five games to play and our only concern right now is playing Jerseyville.
“But I’m not going lie — it feels really good to be 4-0.”