By Rick Palsgrove
(Editor’s note: I decided to proceed with this preview story about the Indian football program so the community could read about the team even though the status and schedule of the season is uncertain due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.)
The Canal Winchester Indians football team has a good mix of returning starters and up and coming young players this year.
“We have a lot of great athletes, but we are young,” said Canal Winchester Indians Head Coach Josh Stratton.
This season the team will compete in the Ohio Capital Conference’s Capital Division along with Big Walnut, Delaware, Dublin Scioto, Franklin Heights, Westerville North, Westerville South, and Worthington Kilbourne.
Stratton said every team in the division is strong.
“Everybody lifts weights. Everybody practices hard,” said Stratton. “We have great coaches in our conference. You can’t take a day off when you play football in Ohio.”
Stratton said the team has a lot of experienced players returning on offense this year, including Stephan Byrd, who is one of the top running backs in the state.
“Stephan was the only sophomore named to the All-State team last year,” said Stratton. “He will be a three year starter as a junior this year. He is the most highly recruited player in Canal Winchester as 15 Division 1 college schools have made offers to him, which includes 11 from Power 5 conferences.”
Stratton said Byrd is 25 pounds heavier, one and a half inches taller, and faster this year.
“He has a different gear now,” said Stratton.
The Indian defense is young this year, but has a lot of speed, according to Stratton.
“We have a really good linebacker, Blain Riley, who had 144 tackles last year,” said Stratton. “The defense has more speed this year than we’ve had in a while. We have some great athletes, but they are young.”
Stratton said the defense includes three linebackers who weigh more than 200 pounds and are over six feet tall.
“We also have some big, fast dudes on the defensive line,” said Stratton.
The annual rivalry game with the neighboring Groveport Madison Cruisers is not on the schedule this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But the rivalry remains strong.
“It’s a great rivalry,” said Stratton. “We’re just a few miles apart. It’s incredibly competitive in the years I’ve been here. Competitive rivalries are fun. The kids know each other. We like and welcome the challenge of playing a bigger school like Groveport.”
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Canal Winchester is operating in Phase 2, which means the team can practice but cannot scrimmage nor be in full contact with pads.
“We’re taking all the safety precautions,” said Stratton. “We are doing right by the kids.”
Various safety protocols are in place including: wearing masks, having players bring their own water so they are not sharing, and maintaining social distancing for players when they are not in a specific drill., limiting contact, and the ongoing sanitizing of equipment.
“We’ve gone through a lot of bottles of cleaners,” said Stratton. “Practice is very structured and supervised. We also stress that the players protect themselves when they are away from practice. We will continue to be safe and do the right thing and do what we can to have a season.”