LUCASVILLE — There’s not a team in Scioto County with more returning playoff experience at their key positions than the Valley Indians.
Valley is coming off a 4-5 campaign a season ago with postseason wins over Northridge and Worthington Christian and a down-to-the-wire 15-14 win over rival Minford in the final week of the regular season.
The Indians return their starting quarterback and running back in Carter Nickel and George Arnett, two-time OPSWA all-District linebacker Chase Morrow, and four offensive lineman who got playing time a season ago up-front.
Of the 31 team members on the Indians’ 2021 roster, 22 are upperclassmen, either juniors or seniors. Coach Darren Crabtree, entering his 32nd year as Valley’s head football coach, says that their returning experience this fall makes a world of difference.
“I think this will be the first time in three or four years that we’ll be able to put a team on the field of all juniors and senior starters,” Crabtree said. “It makes so much difference when you can come back with a group that has experience, quality playing time.”
Nickel became the Indians’ starting quarterback last year after their opening day starter, Andrew Andronis, was sidelined with an injury during the regular season.
Crabtree said the Indians made a point to use Nickel’s running ability to their advantage when he became the starter and even more so during their playoff run.
“We’re real pleased with the progress Carter made last year. He didn’t get a ton of reps last summer. Coming in as a sophomore during our league schedule, he battled through that,” Crabtree said. “As we got going into the playoffs, used his strengths to our advantage.”
Arnett returns as Valley’s leading rusher in both his freshman and sophomore seasons and is seemingly poised for another strong year on the ground.
With his skill set, the Indians’ coach says they’re making a point of emphasis to get their tailback the ball as much as possible.
“George is going to get the bulk of the carries for us. Great freshman year, got better as the season went along last year as our leading returning receiver, also,” Crabtree said. “We’ve got to find a way to get him the ball as many times as we can.”
Morrow will be the team’s fullback and back up running back, as well as being a two-time OPSWA all-District linebacker. Crabtree says he expects an up-tick in his production on offense after sustaining an injury a season ago.
“I think Chase could be the biggest surprise for us on offense this year. He hits the hole very hard, a senior whose gotten a lot stronger since his junior year,” he said.
Seniors Bryson Spencer and Levi Osborne are the Indians’ two returning consistent starters on their offensive line from the ‘20 campaign.
Levi Stewart and Levi Bush played up-front as sophomores but will be starters this year, along with fellow junior Lakota Davis who will be the team’s starting center.
“They’ve gotten a lot stronger since last year. Spencer and Osborne are seniors, but the other guys have starting experience, too. We’re pretty excited about what we feel like we can do with this group.”
Another force up-front Crabtree is expecting to contribute in big ways — on both sides of the football — is 6-foot-6 junior Justin Moore.
Moore earned playing time during Valley’s stretch run a season ago as a defensive tackle and will continue in that role this fall, as well as preparing to lineup at the tight end position to enhance the Indians’ blocking ability.
“We’re expecting Justin to be very difficult for opposing teams to block this year after his success last fall and in the weight room,” Crabtree said. “He’s done a great job in both our scrimmages and contininues to get better in the leadup to the season.”
Valley’s success in other sports is hoping to pay dividends on the gridiron this fall as well.
The Indians’ boys basketball team reached the Division IV district finals while their baseball team won a Division IV regional championship and qualified for the state baseball playoffs for the first time since 1977 this past spring.
“Won three of our last four games, going back to winning the Minford game the last week of the regular season. With the number of players we return with starting experience, the success our baseball team, we’re ready to keep the momentum going,” Crabtree said.
Competing in the Division VI, Region 23 football playoffs is something the Indians coach believe’s this team can do. With 16 teams per region now qualifying for the postseason, Crabtree is hoping his group can vie for one of the top spots in Region 23 and earn the opportunity to host additional playoff games.
“I think with the expansion of the playoffs, I don’t see there as a reason we wouldn’t be in there,” Crabtree said. “Our goal would to be in the top-4 in our region and hopefully get two home playoff games.”
Reach Jacob Smith at (740) 370-0713 ext. 1930, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @JacobSmithPDT © 2021 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved