LUCASVILLE — For the Valley Indians, their numbers are down, but their hopes —spearheaded by a strong core of returning underclassmen —are indeed high.
And, the Indians —should they stay healthy this season — could be in for a serious rebound campaign, as longtime head coach Darren Crabtree kicks off his fourth decade (31st season) as Valley’s chief in charge.
Last season, Valley finished an even 5-5, but was ravaged by injuries by the time Southern Ohio Conference Division II play rolled around in the season’s second half.
This year, while the Indians’ numbers are only at 32 with just six seniors, Crabtree said their “first 14 or 15 kids can match up with people this year”.
Truth be told, Valley will be outnumbered by the likes of visiting Northwest in its season opener —and with Wheelersburg, Waverly, West and Minford in the SOC II.
However, it’s about quality over quantity for the Indians —as those six seniors should mesh well with experienced underclassmen, which all gained valuable playing time last season.
“Our numbers are down, we had quite a few kids either move out of our district or decide not to play. But our kids are coming to practice, working hard and we do have a lot of good kids returning this year, so our hopes are pretty high,” said Crabtree. “We have a lot of good parts back, and we feel good that a lot of our juniors and sophomores are ready to step in and play bigger roles along with our six seniors. So we’re excited.”
Of the six seniors, Andrew Andronis (5-9, 164) returns at quarterback —after missing the second half of last season with a broken collarbone suffered in the 21-14 overtime triumph at Northwest.
“If he can stay healthy, he is definitely a dual threat, and we feel like Andrew is a better quarterback than a lot of guys we play against,” said Crabtree.
When Andronis doesn’t have the ball — or isn’t throwing to wide receivers Ty Perkins (6-3, 165), Bryce Stuart (6-2, 160), Jayden Duncan (5-11, 160), tight end Devin Wiley (6-2, 200) or even backup quarterback Carter Nickel (6-1, 180) — sophomore tailback George Arnett (6-0, 170) likely will.
Arnett emerged as the Indians’ second-leading rusher last season, as Crabtree considers him the “go-to” back for this campaign.
Perkins, as a freshman, was a first-team all-Southeast District Division VI selection.
Nick Bowles (6-0, 205) and Blake Wood (6-1, 225), both seniors, anchor the offensive line —and Stuart is the team’s kicker.
“We lack depth at running back, but we feel like we have a lot of good receivers and nice depth there,” said Crabtree. “Offensively, we feel like we are way ahead of where we were at this time last year.”
If the Indians’ offense avoids injuries this season, then expect it to be on par with an overall solid defensive unit.
Valley did graduate first-team all-district lineman Mason Zaler, but returns fellow first-team all-district linebacker Chase Morrow (5-11, 175, jr.).
Wiley is back at middle linebacker, and was the Indians’ leading tackler until his injury last season.
Joining them will be sophomore Lakota Davis (6-0, 175), as Bryson Spencer (5-10, 265, jr.), Levi Osborne (5-11, 230, jr.), and Levi Bush (5-11, 295, so.) are underclassmen along the line with senior Nick Mowery (5-11, 240) — with both Bowles and Wood returning at ends.
Facing the SOC II’s spread-oriented squads of Wheelersburg, Waverly and Minford, the Indians are back-loaded on the back end —with the likes of Andronis, fellow senior Austin McIntosh (5-11, 165), sophomore Colton Buckle (5-9, 150), Stuart, Nickel, and even Perkins.
“Our depth in the secondary and on the line is very good, and our linebacking corps is stronger than what it was last year,” said Crabtree.
For last season, many of these Indians made their initial varsity starts — perhaps earlier than what Crabtree would have preferred.
This year, that is not the case.
“Against Wheelersburg, Waverly and Minford last year, we didn’t really compete, in our minds,” Crabtree said. “I truly believe that if we stay healthy, we can compete with those teams. With people back healthy that missed playing time, and the progression of our sophomores and juniors from last year, it’s just a different feeling this year and so much more confidence and an understanding of what we’re trying to do. We feel like we can do some great things this year.”
Indeed, while numbers are down, the Indians’ hopes are quite high.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved