CANFIELD — Most likely, half of Canfield High School senior Nick Crawford’s athletic career will end after the Cardinals’ Week 10 showdown at Boardman.
But his competitive career is far from over. Crawford, the Cardinals’ ace running back, is the defending Division II state wrestling champion at 195 pounds.
Wrestling is a big deal at CHS. Crawford’s teammate Anthony D’Alesio also is a defending champion at 182 pounds.
At 5-3 in their football team’s first season as an independent, the two-time defending regional finalists probably won’t return to the postseason. The Cardinals are ranked 15th in this week’s Division III Region 9 playoff computer ratings and need to vault past seven teams to qualify for the playoffs.
Canfield’s remaining opponents — Howland (4-4) and Boardman (3-5) — don’t have many wins, the secondary component that generates computer ratings points.
When the football season does end, Crawford (6-feet, 208 pounds) will switch gears for wrestling, the sport that has earned him a Kent State University scholarship.
“I’m going to miss football, yeah,” Crawford said. “It’s something that’s been part of my life since third grade when I started playing tackle football.
“This will be a hard thing to let go.”
Mike Pavlansky, Canfield’s head coach for 19 seasons, said Crawford has developed into a leader on and off the field.
“He’s got some great gifts, natural talent, but he’s a hard worker,” Pavlansky said. “You don’t become a wrestler at that level without a great work ethic. And he certainly has that.
“He’s really developed into one of the better leaders that we’ve had here in a long time,” Pavlansky said.
It's been an up-and-down season for Canfield. After opening with a 24-21 win over Louisville (5-3), the Cardinals lost 33-30 to Dover (5-3). A 43-0 thumping of McKinley (3-5) from Washington, D.C. was followed by a 38-0 loss to Notre Dame Cathedral Latin (3-5).
The game that kept the Cardinals’ hopes alive came on Sept. 27 when they defeated Alliance (5-3), 35-10. The game was closer than the final score indicates as the Aviators reached the Cardinals' 15-yard-line six times but were limited to two scores.
Behind Crawford’s legs and some terrific blocking, the Cardinals converted three key defensive stops into drives surpassing 82 yards to seize control of the game.
“Nick’s just got that knack to find the open crease,” Pavlansky said. “He doesn’t need much to get through. And when he gets through, he’s got an extra gear to him that makes him tough to catch.”
Canfield finished with 405 yards on the ground.
“Obviously, any time you rush for over 400 yards, somebody up front is doing something [well],” Pavlansky said. “Even our wideouts did a great job of blocking.”
Against the Aviators, Crawford rushed for three touchdowns and caught a 19-yard scoring toss from quarterback Ethan Fletcher. Crawford gained 249 yards on 39 carries.
“Tough kid, physical kid,” Alliance head coach Seth Whiting said. “You know he’s going to run the ball and they were disciplined enough to get their blocks and make plays.”
Paving the way for Crawford are tight end Chris Smith and linemen Richie Hofus, Michael Minenok, Nick Hewko, Andrew Morchak and Gavin Tareshawty. Sharing time at fullback are D’Alesio, Chris Sammarone and Seth Hull.
“Football, I’m not just playing for myself, I’m playing for 10 other guys on the field,” Crawford said of the difference of wrestling and football. “Can’t let those guys down.
“I like the team aspect,” Crawford said. “Playing with the guys around you, your best friends — it’s really fun. In wrestling, you compete more with your friends, in practice, you compete against each other. That’s something you don’t really do in football.
“With wrestling, it’s one-on-one,” Crawford said. “The only person you let down is yourself, which is something you never really want to do.”
Asked who is the funniest of his blockers, Crawford doesn’t hesitate.
“Gotta be Tareshawty — he just has a great personality,” Crawford said of the center on his teams for 10 seasons. “He makes us all laugh. Gavin’s been our center since we started.”
Crawford has been dealing with a nagging shoulder injury. In the 34-0 win over Cleveland JFK on Oct. 4, he was limited to two carries for 33 yards. One was for a 5-yard touchdown that gave the Cardinals a 6-0 lead.
Needing to win out to maybe earn a Week 11 date, the Cardinals stumbled on Oct. 11 with a 31-28 loss at Medina Highland. Crawford’s 85 yards on 10 carries included a 3-yard touchdown. Fletcher and D’Alesio led in that game with 159 and 137 rushing yards, respectively.
Last week, Canfield avenged their lone regular-season loss in 2018 with a 49-21 victory over East (3-5). Crawford’s 58 yards rushing included a 7-yard score.
Pressed to name a teacher who really made an impact on him, Crawford hesitates as if looking for a hole, then chooses Mike Kerensky, his junior high world history teacher.
His favorite subject in the classroom?
“Maybe a science — I really don’t like math,” said Crawford, a slightly ironic response considering how numbers and timing play such a big role on the mat.
Speaking of numbers, Crawford is 13 pounds heavier than his wrestling weight. He’s not worried about shedding pounds even though his diet changes after football season and not in the way you’d think.
“I think I’ll eat more during wrestling [season] just because I burn more calories during practice,” Crawford said. “I’ll eat more, but I’ll lose more and be at a lighter weight the whole season.
“It’s really not that hard because the workouts are so intense.”
Crawford says the Cardinals have adapted to a schedule that no longer has Niles and Poland, former All-American Conference rivals now in the Northeast 8.
“It’s kind of weird but it doesn’t bother us that much,” Crawford said. “We just focus on the game we have."
• Tom Williams is a sports contributor to Mahoning Matters.