LUCASVILLE — It’s nothing new that, once again, the surname Crabtree will be the chief of Valley Indian football.
It’s just that, for the first time in 33 years, it’s indeed a different Crabtree leading the charge on The Reservation.
That’s because Nolan Crabtree, an Indian alumnus and assistant in the program for the past decade, has been officially hired as Valley’s new head coach —as he succeeds the legendary Darren Crabtree, who retired from the post in November, and following his 32 years and 240 career victories.
Nolan Crabtree’s hiring came at a special meeting on Monday night of the Valley Local Schools Board of Education —as he now adds head football coach to his resume, in addition to being the Indians’ successful baseball skipper.
Crabtree graduated from Valley in 2000, was all-Southern Ohio Conference Division I, all-Southeast District and all-Ohio his senior season, and most recently coached for four years on Darren’s high school staff — including elevated to offensive coordinator for the 2021 campaign.
Nolan told The Portsmouth Daily Times, in an interview via social media, that he is elated about taking the program reigns —and said his familiarity with the current crop of Indians is a key factor for future success.
He guided the young Indians to the Division IV Region 15 baseball championship this past spring, and estimated eight to 10 of his baseball players also play football.
Of course, given his football coaching experience which began at the junior high level in 2011, he knows almost each and every Indian on the upcoming roster very well.
“My familiarity with our kids is the most important thing that I can immediately bring to the table. There is a trust factor that is very real with these guys. They know I care about them and will do everything I can to have them prepared to win football games, and ultimately that culture is a seamless transition between the two sports,” said Crabtree. “As far as kids that play both baseball and football, we have about 8 or 10. While that may not sound like a lot, when your football roster was in the 25 to 30 range, this makes up large portion of our kids.”
And, recent lower numbers has been something Valley football has unfortunately struggled with.
The Indians have been a Division VI program, but had the Ohio High School Athletic Association conducted its regular two-year count in 2020 —Valley would have been, in all likelihood, a Division VII team in 2021.
Still, keeping numbers above 30 —and even increasing upon that —will be one of Crabtree’s key challenges.
“One of the biggest things I will have to do is have significant involvement with the Pee Wee program. We have decent numbers in our Pee Wee program, and I need to make sure those kids stay with football all the way to high school. We’re obviously not a big school, so we need our best athletes playing all the sports,” he said. “We need to ensure they are conditioned and prepared across the board.”
Crabtree is also, of course, following in the footsteps of Darren Crabtree —whose illustrious 32-year tenure at Valley included 240 career wins against only 112 losses, along with a combined 11 Southern Ohio Conference Division I (eight) and II (three) championships.
His eight undefeated regular seasons include 1992, a four-year and 40-game win streak from 1996 thru 1999, and again in 2011, 2012 and 2013 — the latter of which coincided with the three SOC II titles, and a three-year winning streak against powerhouse Wheelersburg.
Darren’s Indians appeared in the state playoffs a dozen times, won 14 playoff games, and 20 times Valley amounted seven or more wins.
Nolan said that Darren didn’t have any retirement conversations with the coaching staff —until he informed it he was in fact retiring.
“Coach Crabtree has achieved almost everything you can imagine as Valley’s coach, and left a legacy that will not be forgotten. Because of him, we have a history of playing winning football at Valley,” Nolan explained. “I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for our kids and our school. Having said that, I have to be me.”
Even Darren’s advice, in his interview with The Portsmouth Daily Times for his retirement story which appeared in the Dec. 3 edition, was for the next head coach “to be yourself.”
“My short-term goals are to implement a culture of excellence. I want to get the most out of our kids and have that translate to on-field success. We return a large number of seniors who have big-game experience, and they are going to play a huge role in setting the tone for our long-term success,” Nolan said. “And that long-term success is the reason I wanted to run this program.”
Crabtree was also asked, given the decline in overall enrollment at Valley, about the possibility of becoming a Division VII program —and even dropping back down to the smaller-school SOC I.
The Indians joined the SOC II starting in 2005, after several successful seasons in the smaller-school division.
But recently, they have struggled to compete against the larger SOC II strongholds —in particular Division IV Waverly, and the Division V clubs of Wheelersburg and West.
“I don’t envision us going back to the SOC I, and I don’t really want to. I have not been informed that is happening. But I want our program to embrace that challenge and raise our level of play and expectation. That’s my job. To beat the teams on our schedule and get the most out of our kids. When it comes to D-VII, it’s going to be close most years. I think we’ll be right around that cut line. But when we get in the playoffs, our tough conference schedule will be a benefit. That was the case two years ago, when we won multiple playoff games in D-VI and last spring in baseball. It (SOC II) poses a challenge without a doubt, but we have had a lot of success in SOC II. I know we are now about 10 years removed from our last SOC championship, but we haven’t been at the bottom of the barrel every year either. It’s been a while since we beat Wheelersburg, and probably six or seven years since beating Waverly, but we have beat all of the other schools recently,” said Crabtree. “When it comes to improvement, I mentioned making sure our best athletes play, and we have to make use of our new weight facility and get our kids to put in consistent work in the weight-room.”
No doubt, Crabtree will work tirelessly as head coach, as he indeed did have a hefty groundswell of support — from fellow Indian coaches, players, Valley alumni, and current community members.
And, as a result, he’s now the Crabtree in charge on The Reservation.
“I am going to run this program in a manner that our community can be proud of,” he said. “I hope to have a fraction of the success Coach (Darren) Crabtree has had, and instill a sense of pride in our program that has a lasting impact on our kids.”
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @paulboggssports © 2022 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved