Levi Nolan ready to lead way for young Cardinals
Sometimes having a young player featured in a prominent role in an offense can be frustrating for football coaches. Most often, a ton of patience is required as growing pains are almost guaranteed.
Fortunately for Grand Valley, growing pains were minimal last season as freshman running back Levi Nolan stepped up in a big way to help the Cardinals snap a 26-game losing streak at the end of the season by topping Lake County, 52-21.
In that ground-breaking win for the program, Nolan rushed for a season-high 189 yards and two scores, showing the coaching staff — and the rest of the 1A Western Slope League — just what was to come in the next three years in the black and red of the Parachute high school.
Now, heading into his second full season at the high school level, Nolan — who will pair with another dynamic sophomore running back in Jonathan Pena — knows just what to expect as a featured weapon in the Grand Valley attack, and based on the way he looks in preseason workouts, he’s poised for another big year.
A lot of that comes with the work he’s put in on his fitness leading up to the season.
“For me, it was all about eating right and sticking to a plan,” Nolan said. “I spent every day in the weight room adding strength and then I’d run a mile every day to get my conditioning up. I put on about 15 pounds [to make sure I can take on the added workload].”
Along with his role in the backfield as part of Grand Valley’s read-option attack, Nolan will also see some time in the slot for the Cardinals, who will look to add to their passing game from last season, which was a struggle at times. Having the ability to run against anyone with the duo of Nolan and Pena should only increase the success in the passing game.
Despite the high level of success that Nolan had last season after Pena went down with an injury, the sophomore is more than happy to chip in anywhere he’s needed, as long as it leads to wins on the schedule.
“We have some other really good running backs out this season, so it all depends on where I’m needed, but I just want to play,” Nolan said. “I love both spots offensively. I like to be able to go out and make that tough catch to pick up first downs, but I also like to smash into defenders straight ahead. But really, it doesn’t matter one bit to me where I play.”
That stance from Nolan seems to reflect the rest of the team, which is looking to have its first winning season since 2009.
Fortunately for Nolan and the Cardinals, a young, talented core is in place, so brighter days should be ahead.
“We’re just really looking forward to winning,” Nolan said. “We were able to snap that losing streak last year, so we stepped it up at the end of the year. A lot of kids last year weren’t really hungry and thought ‘oh, we’re going to lose anyway’ every week, so that win really gave us our heart and hunger back to be great. We’re really hoping to get some wins in.”
Adding to the intrigue around the Cardinals this year — as well as into the future — is that a large majority of Nolan’s class was together on the middle school team a few short years ago. During that span, they notoriously rolled through opponents, resulting in win after win.
Now that they’re together at the high school level, much of the same is expected. However, that doesn’t mean the tough stretch last season didn’t weight heavily on a young group.
“It was definitely tough to say the least,” Nolan said. “We were so used to winning in middle school, but this is an entirely different level and we realized we really needed to step up and find another level to our game. That really drove us, and now we’re really excited for what we have in store for this season.”
With Nolan gearing up for another big year, a healthy Pena set to join him and a veteran offensive line in front of them with seniors Evan Hoff, Austin Fox and Austin Walck leading the way, wins could come in bunches for the Cardinals, much the same way the final game finished with the ball in Nolan’s hands.
Certainly the Cardinals’ coaching staff will feel comfortable with that in year two.
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