With the start of any new campaign, there’s always high hopes attached to a new season as part of the new crop of young talents that come through the halls each and every year.
And for the Valley Indians and the Portsmouth Trojans, the hope is that both units can use the official kickoff to the 2018 football season as a springboard for the future situations, and contests, that lie ahead.
Which is a fact that neither 29th-year head coach Darren Crabtree or first year leader Bruce Kalb can deny.
“We’d like to think (that we will be right in the thick of the battle),” Valley’s Crabtree said. “I know that last year, Portsmouth handled us pretty easily, and they return the best back in the area in Talyn Parker and a couple of really nice offensive linemen in Colin Boehm and Parker Johnston. They have a strong offensive line and some additional weapons that they can get the football out to and get some yards from. (Danny) Lattimore might be a first-year starter, but he’s a senior with a lot of experience as far as leadership goes. They’ve got a litany of talented pieces.”
“I look at our opening game against Valley, and you’re talking about an opponent that’s going to give you everything they have,” Kalb, Portsmouth’s new head man, said. “I know that Darren’s been around a while and he has done a heck of a job with those guys. It’ll be a big test for us right out of the gate, as a new head coach, with quite a few individuals in the lineup as first-year starters.”
With both units, the one certainty that both units have in spades are the talents that lie at the skill positions — Talyn Parker included. Portsmouth’s star back ran for 1,010 yards and 16 touchdowns — a high school career for the vast majority of running backs. The junior did that in just six games as a sophomore.
“Talyn just has a knack for making big-time plays,” Kalb said. “Our goal has been to keep him healthy throughout the preseason and make sure that he’s ready to go. He’ll certainly get his fair share of touches. At the same time, however, we need to make sure that we spread the ball around, because we’ll have teams that are going to be keying on Talyn any time that he goes into motion, and those very weapons can make plays, as well.”
“When you face Portsmouth, you’ve got to account for where Parker lines up,” Crabtree said. “They’re going to move him around and try to utilize him in order to get him the ball, and he’s the kind of athlete and player where if he touches the football, he’s always a threat to score. That’s a real concern for us defensively. The hardest thing for us to do, especially on the defensive side of the football, is replicate Parker’s speed. We can recognize formations or what we think they’ll run out of a certain set, but until you’re actually on the field and see how fast he is, as well as the angles that we have to take to stop him, it’s something that we can’t work very well on in practice.”
The abilities of guys like Andrew Shope, Gabe Streeter, and Tanner Spradlin, however, are certainly to be respected in their own right.
Take Streeter, for example: on the defensive side of the football, the senior collected 77 tackles, nine pass breakups, and six interceptions while returning two of those interceptions for touchdowns. He’ll be a critical threat in all three phases of the game, as evidenced by his kickoff return for a touchdown last year by accounting for the lone score for Valley against Portsmouth in a 35-7 defeat. Shope, a multi-year starter at the signal-calling position, and Spradlin, the unit’s leading receiver from 2017, are all back for the Indians. The trio, among others, are guys that Crabtree will be hoping to free up throughout the affair.
“Offensively, there’s schemes that we feel like we can take advantage of a little bit,” Crabtree said. “We had a really good practice (on Monday), and we feel like we’re healthy. We feel like that we have everybody playing for us that should be there as far as our skill kids are concerned, and we know that if we play as well as we can, we’re going to be in a ball game.”
As for Kalb, simplifying the defensive schemes, which is certainly not an uncommon practice across the football landscape, was the best solution to the figures that await the Trojans on Thursday evening.
“We were breaking down film and looking at all of the different weapons that they have, and we’re thinking, ‘OK, how do we defend this arsenal that they have there? They have (Gabe) Streeter, (Tanner) Spradlin, and (Andrew) Shope,'” Kalb said. “We decided that the best way to defend them is to simplify the details for our guys so that they can play fast. We certainly will have eyes out for those guys and the different things that they do to get the ball in space, but at the same time, we’re also being very cautious, because we don’t want to confuse our kids to the point where it’s paralysis by analysis.”
While Valley will only be breaking in two new starters compared to nine last season against the Trojans, Kalb will have to replace a strong senior class led by West Virginia State signee Isaac Kelly, D.J. Pearsall, and Wittenberg’s Anthony Ferrara, among others. Danny Lattimore, a multi-sport standout like Kelly, will be replacing the outgoing senior in 2018 as one of the first-year starters and will take over duties as the signal-caller for Portsmouth in doing so.
With that being said, however, patience — and amnesia — is the key to virtue.
“Isaac was a heck of a guy to have in the backfield last year,” Kalb said. “It was essentially like having another back to go to. Danny understands that he has to fill Isaac’s shoes, but he’s been filling those shoes quite well. Where he may lack in some of the running ability that Isaac had, he can make up for that with the potential that he has in the passing game. I have no doubt that Danny will find his niche and be the best quarterback that he can possibly be. In general, we’ve got a lot of guys who are getting their first real experience of playing varsity football. Our theme has been that no matter what happens, we keep going forward. No matter what comes or what adversity comes our way, we stand tall and keep going forward. As we get through each game of the season, that’s our motive — to keep moving forward on each play, each game, and each week, and get better every day and every week.”
Regardless of the result, however, both Crabtree and Kalb know that their respective teams will have to be sound physically and mentally in order to come away with a victory.
“We’ll attempt to slow their big guys down up front,” Crabtree said. “They’ve got two really aggressive defensive ends that have caused a lot of problems over their first two scrimmages. The secondary looks very strong, and their linebacking crew seems to run to the football very well. Hopefully, we can make the plays that will keep this game interesting.”
“Defensively, they know their assignments, they know their positions, and they play them well,” Kalb said. “The big thing that we have to do is to go out and play fundamental football in order to make sure that we have success, because Darren’s guys are always very, very well coached. We know that it’s going to come down to doing the little things right. We know that as soon as we get a block downfield and we’re squeezing, we’re attacking that inside shoulder. It’s the little things like that. They play fast and we need to make sure that we keep up with their speed.”