INDIANAPOLIS – On Wednesday evening, darkness began to descend on the practice football field in front of Tindley School. Junior Wileek Blanchard’s voice cut through the quiet of traffic humming by on nearby streets.
“Tigers are you ready?!” Blanchard shouted as the kickoff team lined up. “Tigers are you ready?!” The ball bounced down the field off the foot off Javier Gaddie. The Tigers gave chase.
They are ready. A team of 15 eligible players is 4-0 and will set a school record for wins with one more victory. But one more victory does not alone signify success to this group.
“We all want to be that team,” senior receiver and safety Jermaine McFadden said. “We want to be that team to win sectional and win state. We want to prove to each other and to the school that we can do it.”
Building a football program from scratch is no easy task. Football is a numbers’ game. At Tindley, where grades are checked every week and a 2.5 grade-point average is required, it can be a difficult task to keep those numbers at a sustainable level.
Chris Edison, 30, started with six players when he took the job in the summer of 2016. At practice Wednesday, there were 21 kids. But several currently fall short of the academic standards. Tindley likely will take the field Friday night for the biggest game since the program started in 2012, against 4-0 Covenant Christian, with 15 players.
This is not an excuse. It is reality.
“’I wouldn’t change it,” Edison said. “If you plan to go to college, you should have a 2.5 (GPA) anyway. That’s what I tell them. We have seven or eight ineligible kids right now. Hopefully we can get them back for sectionals. I understand why (the high standards) are in place. I had early gripes about it. But it’s the culture here. It’s there for a reason.”
Edison played at Warren Central, graduating in 2006. He was there during the Warriors’ four-year run of state titles under Kevin Wright and Steve Tutsie from 2003-06. Those Warren Central teams might have had more running backs than this Tindley team has in total numbers.
Edison gets a chuckle out of that. He might be the only coach in the state who does not have a Hudl account to review game video. One of the coaches records the game on an iPad, but it is then deleted to save space for the next game. When Covenant Christian emailed on Sunday to ask about game video, he politely told them it might have to check with Tindley’s opponents.
“We have limited resources but we don’t make excuses,” said Edison, who coached one season at Shortridge before coming to Tindley and was previously an assistant at Tech. “I came here and had six kids. I started recruiting basketball players and baseball players. We got them to buy into the football program. We’re trending, I’ll say that.”
Tindley’s numbers might be tiny, but its talent is not. Through four games, junior quarterback R.J. Lyons has 14 touchdown passes and seven rushing TDs. Lyons, who has attended Tindley since the seventh-grade, is one of 10 players who start on both sides of the ball.
Even when Tindley is up big — the Tigers have three shutout wins over Trinity Lutheran (44-0), Anderson Prep (58-0) and Indiana Deaf (54-0) — Edison has to leave Lyons in the game to hand the ball off. That is life without a backup quarterback.
Lyons calls Edison a “close friend” and a “coach off the field.”
“I want to be the first Tindley quarterback to go 4-0, to go 9-0, to win a sectional championship and go even further,” Lyons said. “As far as school, (coach) tells me to be a robot. ‘Do what they tell you.’ If they tell you to do something, just do it. That has worked for me.”
McFadden, a co-captain with Lyons, wants to double major in psychology and art in college. Football can be the vehicle to get him there.
“(Edison) has told me I can do more than just play high school football,” he said. “… I can let this sport be a catalyst for me go to college for free. He’s encouraged me to be a better leader for my teammates.”
Not all of Tindley’s players have their sights set on playing college ball. Joshua “Perk” Perkins is a 5-3, 100-pound freshman receiver. His teammates love him. So does Edison.
“I wasn’t in the spirit of football at first,” Perkins said. “But I love it now. I wanted to try something new. This is pretty much my sport now.”
Covenant Christian defeated Tindley 54-18 last season. The Warriors are a relatively new program as well, but achieved success last year in the form of a 10-1 record under veteran coach Larry McWhorter.
Friday’s game, which will be played at Zionsville West Middle School, will be a measuring stick to show how far the Tindley program has come in a year.
“We tell them all the time that we’re not here to win four games,” Edison said. “We’re here to win state like everybody else. We have talent. We have high hopes. I truly believe we’re a forced to be reckoned with at our level.”
These Tigers are ready. All 15 of them.