Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
LUCASVILLE — When Valley lost its starting quarterback last season, some wrote the team off.
After all, without an experienced signal caller and a ton of youth on their roster, the Indians had to be headed for disaster. But coach Darren Crabtree and company had other plans.
Instead of hanging their heads in despair, the Indians rallied to find an identity. And, with sophomore Carter Nickel taking over quarterback responsibilities, they put an exclamation point on what some thought to be a doomed season.
Nickel led his team to its first playoff win since 2015, a 34-13 decision over Northridge, before repeating that feat the following week with a 27-21 win over Worthington Christian.
In those two wins, Nickel was 12-of-27 passing for 250 yards and two touchdowns while adding 156 rushing yards and two additional scores. Now, he’s looking to capitalize on that playoff run.
Before his junior year begins, one that comes with big expectations, we caught up with Nickel to discuss last season’s magic, what he expects this fall and much, much more.
Question: First, can you describe the run you guys had last season? What was the key to that and what was the best part about it?
Nickel: We were fortunate to play in three playoff games last year. With an already shortened season, I came in as quarterback during Week 3 after our starter was out due to injury. That was a big transition, but my teammates made it as smooth as possible. With a big win in the last game of the regular season against Minford, we were pretty excited for the playoffs. During those last few regular season games, we were able to establish an identity offensively. With some game experience, we were able to have some success in the playoffs.
Q: How do you take that run and build off it heading into this season?
CN: We have to continue to build on what made us successful during that postseason run. Our running game and defense were big, and we still have room to improve. We are excited for this season. We know we have to go out and compete each week, knowing nothing about our schedule is easy. Having success in the postseason last year and playing in the state tournament in baseball has made my teammates and I hungry for more.
Q: There are always changes from year-to-year. How are you guys dealing with those changes and how are you filling in the gaps left?
CN: We need to come to work everyday and do what is needed for our team to be successful. We have people who are eager to fill any open spots. Our guys on the line don’t get enough credit or recognition. They step up day in and day out and do the dirty work.
Q: Individually, what has been your approach to the off-season? What have you worked on most?
CN: I play every sport and stay busy year-round. I’ve gotten a lot stronger and improved on my command of the offense. I feel like I know what the coaches want me to do in big situations.
Q: The SOC is never easy to win. What makes your conference so tough to compete in?
CN: The SOC is respected as one of the strongest conferences around. In conference play, we go up against some of the best teams and athletes and that only makes us better and helps prepare us for playoffs. We are, by far, the smallest school in the SOC II. But I think our coach has developed a program that’s respected and you know we are always showing up well-coached and ready to play.
Q: What are your overall expectations this year?
CN: Our expectations at Valley never change. We play to win and to win championships. If you don’t expect to win, you’re playing for the wrong reasons. We prepare to win and, hopefully, at the end of every game, we can walk away knowing we did our best. With COVID, you never know what can change your schedule in an instant. I’m looking forward to playing a lot of football with some of my best friends.