Friday, November 19, 1999

Abrams fills big shoes for Lebanon




BY CAREY HOFFMAN
Enquirer contributor

        Last year's Division II state championship football team at Lebanon was anchored by a pair of four-year starters, quarterback Brady Merchant and running back Kelton Lindsay. Making a run at another title this year meant successfully finding replacements.

        While replacing Lindsay, the most honored player in school history, wasn't going to be easy, at least his successor was obvious -- his cousin, Nick Singleton, already a 1,000- yard rusher in his own right.

        Senior Casey Abrams has been the man who has stepped up to fill Merchant's shoes.

        “The things he's done a very nice job of is doing something not many people have to do: replace a four-year starter in a role like quarterback,” Lebanon coach Dave Brausch said of Abrams. “That is tough to do.”

        Abrams will again be at the helm at 7:30 p.m. tonight, when Lebanon (10-2) takes on Edgewood (12-0) in the Division II, Region 8 championship game at Dayton's Welcome Stadium. The winner advances to next weekend's state semifinals.

        Abrams has dealt with the pressure of expectations for another Lebanon playoff run all season.

        “It was kind of hard, especially at the beginning, knowing everyone was looking at me and the other guys who were replacing the big-name guys from last year,” Abrams said. “I didn't get a chance to show in the past that I was going to be as good a replacement in following Brady.”

        Abrams did have the benefit of performing mop-up work in blowout games last year, something that happened with regularity. He also had the confidence of being on the field during all that success, leading last year's Lebanon defense with seven interceptions from a starting safety role.

        In fact, versatility is one of Abrams' biggest strengths. Besides his ability to contribute to both the offense and defense in football, he is a state qualifier in wrestling (his dad, Greg, is Lebanon's wrestling coach) and a star centerfielder/left-handed pitcher during the baseball season.

        He goes so far as to say his success in making interceptions -- he has four more this year in limited time with the defense, including three in Lebanon's playoff victories the last two weeks -- comes back to the time he's spent in centerfield in baseball. “It's just like playing centerfield. You learn to track down those long, high passes,” Abrams said.

        Offensively, Abrams is a different style from Merchant, but has been just about identical in his productivity.

        Abrams has thrown for 1,203 yards this year, matching the 100- yards-per game average Lebanon had a year ago. He's completing 55 percent of his throws and has nine TDs to five interceptions, both numbers comparable to what Merchant produced a year ago.

        “The difference is that Brady was more of a true option quarterback who learned to throw,” Brausch said. “Casey is more like a pure thrower who has learned to run the option. I think in the last couple of years they were actually able to help each other in practice in that way.”

        Merchant -- who, ironically, was the son of Lebanon's basketball coach -- was also different in the tone he set for the offense. “Casey is a little bit more of a free spirit than Brady,” Brausch said. “Brady was pretty conservative, Casey probably listens to a little bit louder kind of music. If Brady was kind of out of the Roger Staubach All-American mold, then Casey is more like a Brett Favre.”

        Bottom line, however, is that it hasn't hurt Lebanon's performance. The stat Brausch is really keeping an eye on is turnovers. Last year's team made only one turnover in its four playoff games; this year, Lebanon has only turned it over once in its first two games.

        As for tonight's game, Abrams is actually more eagerly anticipating making a difference on defense.

        “I think my role on defense could be bigger (than offense) in this game,” Abrams said. “We're working hard on our defense this week on the whole, because no one has really stopped Edgewood yet this year. If we do the job, then I hope on offense we'll put some points on the board and take the pressure off the defense.”

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