McDERMOTT — There may not have been a team in the 2019 football cycle that saw more improvements from game one to game 10 than the Northwest Mohawks.
Fielding one of the largest rosters in Scioto County, last season’s Mohawks won four of their last five games to claim just the eighth winning season in Northwest football history at 6-4.
And, if a few plays in the Valley and Symmes Valley games had turned out differently, the Mohawks could have very easily supplanted themselves with their first-ever OHSAA football playoffs bid.
What does all of that mean exactly for the 2020 version of the Mohawks?
According to senior lineman Caleb Crabtree, one of seven Northwest seniors, the Mohawks are starkly the same in all of their strengths from a year ago — only better.
“The strengths of this year’s team are the same as last year, only better,” Crabtree said. “I think we’re better at every single position, and that’s saying something because of how good our offense was last year. Our line’s bigger, and our backs are stronger and faster.”
Crabtree, the youngest son of second-year head coach Bill Crabtree, is one of three returning Southeast Ohio all-district team members from the 2019 season.
Another senior Nathan Rivers, an all-district Special Mention team member who rushed for nearly 1,000 yards as a junior alongside then-sophomore Brayden Campbell, had similar positive things to say about the strengths of the Mohawks this fall.
“We’ve got a strong line, strong and fast backs,” Rivers said. “Our defensive backs are working hard, our defense is strong. There’s really no faults in anything we’ve got.”
After a season that mirrored some of the best Mohawk football teams in their long history, the 2020 team had a chance to be the first Northwest team to qualify for the OHSAA postseason.
Following the OHSAA Board of Directors’ vote to shorten the length of the regular season from 10 games to six, as well as deem that every team in the state is eligible to compete in the playoffs if it elects to, the Mohawks no longer have to worry about qualifying.
In preparing for this strange season, Crabtree, Rivers and fellow senior Kaden Zumbro admit they’ve been taking a conventional approach in a year it’s been anything but conventional.
“It’s been weird. You just don’t really know what’s going on with the season,” Crabtree said. “We’ve been working like we’re going to have a full 10-game season, obviously that’s changed down to six now. We’re still preparing hard and getting ready for week one.”
“It’s been nerve-wracking knowing that it’s possible we may not have a season,” Zumbro said. “We’ve been working the whole time like we’re going to have a 10-game season, we’ve just been grinding it out.”
“We’ve been working pretty hard,” Rivers said. “Every day everyone’s been showing up, working hard to be ready for game time.”
The seven-man Northwest senior football class will likely be the smallest in the next several years, based on the current grade levels of the rest of the Mohawks’ roster — as well as their successful junior high programs.
With the responsibility of being a senior also comes the responsibility to setting an example for your underclassmen teammates — ones who will in fact be filling their own shoes over the coming years.
“We’ve just been showing up every day, making sure they know what’s expected out of them and what’s expected out of us,” Crabtree said. “Just trying to set a good example.”
“Kind of like the seniors did last year we’re showing up, working hard, putting the work in, not slacking off,” Rivers said. “Showing the underclassmen how to lead by example.”
This is also the first season in which the Mohawks have had full access to the newly-renovated Roy Rogers Field, new locker-rooms, and a new indoor practice facility and weight room.
During the time which the Mohawks have had together as a team amid the coronavirus pandemic, Zumbro says they’ve been taking full advantage of their new facilities — which took over half-a-year to fully complete.
“It’s a lifesaver being able to get in there and get our plays in, get some conditioning in,” Zumbro said. “When the conditions aren’t really bearing with us, we can still put the work in.”
The senior Mohawks acknowledge that while crossing the playoff barrier was one of their goals prior to the season, their focus is on taking the currently-scheduled 2020 season one game at a time — knowing it could change in an instant.
“I’ve been here my whole life. I’ve been working since I was five years old for this season,” Crabtree said. “I’m ready.”
“It’s going to mean everything, that’s what we’ve been working so hard for,” Zumbro said. “We’ve got to do it, we’ve got to have it.”
“It’s going to be awesome,” Rivers said. “Considering there’s a chance we might not have a season at all, we’re just going to go out and play every game like it’s our last and go out with a bang.”
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved