Alan Karrfalt had something to prove.
After having his 2020 campaign limited to seven games because of Covid-19 issues within the program, the Covington High quarterback decided it was time to not to take anything for granted anymore.
"Missing my last three games due to Covid last year has put me on a mission to not waste a single second of this year," said Karrfalt, who was 158-of-207 for 1,744 yards with 22 touchdowns and 57 rushes for 206 yards and three scores last fall. "The time that everyone on the team put in the weight room and film during the off-season is what is making the biggest difference from last year. Our experience and preparation have not only shown dramatic improvement, but my mindset is also where it needs to be."
The 6-foot, 165-pound senior has proven to be right on target to this point by completing 159-of-257 passes for 1,922 yards with 21 touchdowns and 62 carries for 262 yards and eight scores.
These impressive totals have not gone unnoticed as he was recently named the MaxPreps/USA Football Player of the Week by going 40-of-58 for 485 yards with five touchdowns in a 48-12 win over Fountain Central on September 10.
"The game has slowed down for me as I've gotten more experienced," explained Karrfalt. "I feel more comfortable sitting in the pocket longer and trusting my teammates to do their jobs. My receivers make the game seem 10 times faster at times as they are great route runners and just all-around athletes.
"Like I said the off-season was huge for our team. We have had some new players who didn't play last year come in and the fit was perfect."
One of the players benefitting from Karrfalt's good fortune is junior wide out Duncan Keller, who hauled in a state record 22 receptions for 345 yards with five touchdowns against Fountain Central.
"It was very exciting to break that record," said Keller, who has so far accumulated 54 catches for 766 yards with nine scores. "It means a lot to me to hold a state record. The work I have put in my life to this sport paid off in that game."
Just like his signal caller, the 6-foot, 165-pound Keller also dedicated himself in the off-season to surpass last year's totals of 50 receptions for 691 yards and nine touchdowns.
"I made sure to most importantly build chemistry with my teammates," Keller said. "Me and Alan grew a bigger connection on and off the field that improved both of us. We were all in as a team. We all seem to have the same goals.
"We (Keller and Karrfalt) have known each other for a while. We have been friends since middle school and that bond just led to the field. We seem to click together and we still have way more room to improve. We also argue more than regular teammates about little things we think are right."
Having someone he can trust on the gridiron has paid dividends for Karrfalt as well.
"Dunc and I have been good friends since I can remember," explained Karrfalt. "We're always doing things together whether it's riding our bikes around town as kids or going on vacations together. He makes my job on the field easier than it looks. I could probably throw to him every play because he is open nine times out of ten. Dunc and I's relationship off the field has helped tremendously on the field. Having Duncan on our team is lovely. He is a stud on both sides of the ball, not just offense.
"A lot of my success in my career wouldn't have been close to what it is now without him. It's not always nothing but smiles for the two of us, but we both respect what we have done for each other, to listen to each other, and get better as time goes on."
As if the Covid-19 issues in 2020 wasn't bad enough, the Trojans also had to deal with the departure of Tyler Campbell, who left this past May after just one season to take the top spot at Maconaquah High School.
However, things have continued to run smoothly with the return of former boss Travis Brown on an interim basis.
"There were a lot of different emotions at the beginning," recalled Karrfalt, who threw for 544 yards and eight touchdowns in the season opening 62-56 win over South Vermillion. "At first, it never crossed my mind about who my new coach was going to be. My first thought was why would Coach (Campbell) leave right now after all the preparation this team has done in the off season. Then, my second thought was what can I do to show him what he is going to miss out on. I was angry at first, but then had to switch my mindset of keeping everyone involved with workouts as we didn't have a coach for quite some time.
"Our assistant coach, Coach (Troy) Bever, did a great job of filling in and keeping things going till we heard Coach Brown was coming back. When I heard about Coach Brown, it was a sense of relief as I knew what kind of football he liked to play."
"I was angry at first," Keller said. "I didn't want to change coaches, but I learned to accept Coach Brown. We got rolling right away and we kept working hard every day to get where we are now.
"We are dedicated and actually care about winning. Coach Campbell brought that here, and Coach Brown has help to continue it when he left. The team all wants the same goal."
Already serving as the head girls' basketball coach and athletic director, Brown knew there was the potential for something special this fall with the one-two punch of Karrfalt and Keller.
"Alan has put in some time getting his arm strengthened and watched quite a bit of film, which has allowed the speed of the game to slow down through his eyes," Brown said. "He is much more confident and patient in the pocket, but when he has to scramble, he keeps his eyes downfield looking to still complete passes instead of just taking off.
"Duncan has been an important piece to our team with his athleticism. He has great hand-eye coordination, explosiveness, and speed. He continues to improve his route running and finds open spaces against zone coverage."
Sitting with a 3-2 mark heading into Friday's contest at South Newton, Covington has its sights set on not only a winning record, but also claiming its first sectional crown.
"Bringing home a sectional championship would feel great at the time," Karrfalt said. "It would be cool and fun to celebrate with the team, but only for a quick second. Getting past sectionals would be awesome, but the job isn't done with just sectionals. Making it past sectionals is just the first step of the final journey."
"It would be crazy to me," Keller said. "I would love for people to know I was an important part of Covington's first sectional ever in football. That is a goal I think our team can accomplish. I am confident in our talent and drive to win games. We could make it happen and bring home a sectional for Covington."