With Abele, Niskayuna was perfect

Tom Abele was a star fullback and linebacker for Niskayuna's 8-0 team in 1960. (Photo provided)Tom Abele was a star fullback and linebacker for Niskayuna's 8-0 team in 1960. (Photo provided)

Tom Abele’s reputation as a standout fullback was already established when he began his senior season at Niskayuna High School in 1960.

Silver Warriors coach Don Boothe took full advantage of that as an unbeaten campaign unfolded.

“Deceivingly fast,” Schenectady Gazette sportswriter Marv Cermak wrote of Abele late that fall. “Spurted to eight touchdowns in addition to providing tremendous line-crashing fakes off the belly-series that enabled Niskayuna halfbacks to run at will.”

Though two of his teammates led the Schenectady County scoring list that season and Abele was fourth, he was the essential piece to Niskayuna’s offensive success. Abele also excelled in those days of limited substitution at outside linebacker, creating a package that led to great interest from the college ranks and a slew of honors including the Schenectady Gazette and Union Star player of the year.

Another honor will come Abele’s way Saturday when he is among 13 in the player category inducted into the Capital Region Football Hall of Fame. Boothe was enshrined in the hall of fame in 2015, shortly before his death.

“Your opponent has to have the fear of someone,” Abele said this past weekend. “That was the key. That set up situations.”

As a 6-foot-2, 195-pound senior co-captain, Abele was the guy they feared most, and Boothe played off that. So many times during that 1960 season Abele was mauled by several defenders after taking a fake handoff from quarterback John Richter, leaving an outside lane opened up for either Ken Watson and John Ham.

“What made coach stand out was not only his winning records, but it was his knowledge of the sport,” Abele said at the time of Boothe’s hall of fame induction. “He really brought contemporary football to the Capital Region. He brought modern-day football. Back then, we were in the dark ages. He brought the T-formation, the split-T, but, most of all, he advanced the defenses with the different types of defensive alignments he had. He was a big innovator.”

Abele flourished in Boothe’s defensive schemes with his quickness and sure tackling, and he gave opposing defenses a load of problems with those effective fakes, his punishing blocks and running of the ball. He rumbled for 174 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries when Niskayuna beat Columbia 20-0 his senior year.

“Tom, we feel, could play most anywhere in the country,” Boothe had said before Abele’s commitment to the University of Pittsburgh. “He loves contact and has tremendous desire and courage.”

Abele was a member of Niskayuna’s first three varsity football teams that posted records of 2-6, 5-1-1 and 8-0. He also played basketball and competed as a sprinter, hurdler and shot putter for the Silver Warriors’ track and field team.

“My junior year we lost our first game to Shaker and tied Bethlehem, and then we won 13 straight,” said Abele, who resides in Bolton Landing. “We had a great team my junior year, too, but it took a few games to get clicking.”

Niskayuna beat Shaker 35-13 to wrap up the 1960 Suburban Council title with a 7-0 record, and beat Hudson afterward 21-14 to cap the only unbeaten and untied season in program history (Boothe’s 1962 and 1970 teams went 7-0-1).

“We scrimmaged Mont Pleasant in the preseason,” Abele said. “They were the state champs the year before, and although it was only a scrimmage, we beat them. We knew we had something.”

Niskayuna had to rally under the lights at Hudson to finish unbeaten. Hudson led at the half 14-0.

“In the second half I don’t think they gained five yards,” Abele said.

Abele was voted to the All County Scholastic Football Team as a senior, received the area’s Thom McAn Award for athletic and academic achievement, was named to the National High School All-American Football Team (second team) and was invited to play in the annual Prep All-America Football Game.

He said in the week after the Hudson game 12 college recruiters visited Niskayuna in an attempt to sway him to their programs. Abele eventually narrowed his choice down to Buffalo, Cornell, Penn State and Pitt, which he selected because of its “dental program and first-class football team.”

Abele started on Pitt’s freshman team alongside future NFL player and coach Marty Schottenheimer, and competed against then-Navy quarterback Roger Staubach that season. Abele played varsity as a sophomore and junior, and after some time away from school due to an illness, he returned to complete his education. Next year will mark his 50th practicing dentistry at his office in Delmar.

Satuday’s 6 p.m. hall of fame induction ceremony will be held at the Red Lion Hotel in Colonie (formerly the Holiday Inn Turf).

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Jim Schiltz at 518-395-3143, jims@dailygazette.com or@jim_schiltz on Twitter.