ZANESVILLE, Ohio – The 2017 Tri-Valley Scotties put together a football season that has gone down in the history books.
The 2017 Scotties were the first team from Muskingum County to ever play in an OHSAA state championship football game. They were also the first Muskingum Valley League team to make it to the title game since Sheridan did so in 1987.
On the defensive side of the ball, no one had more impact on the team than senior linebacker Nate Lawler.
Despite playing the entire season with a dislocated shoulder, Lawler led the team with 74 tackles. At the end of the season, he accepted an offer to join the Cincinnati Bearcats team as a preferred walk on.
“I had some other opportunities, but I just felt like [Cincinnati] was the best fit.” Lawler says. “The coaching staff is a big part of the decision for me. I really thought that they would care about me and, you know, make me a better football player.”
This season, the Bearcats ran the table, going 9-0 through the regular season on their way to winning the American Athletic Conference championship. The team became one of the talks of the college football world. After dominating opponents week after week, some called for the team to be given the chance to compete for a spot in the college football playoffs. Lawler, who saw extensive time on the field playing special teams, says the team stayed focused on playing their best football.
“A big thing that [Coach Luke] Fickell preaches is to just block out all the noise,” Lawler says. “All those people on social media saying that isn’t gonna change how the [College Football Playoff] committee votes.”
“We kinda knew that we could play with the power five teams,” he adds. “But no, I don’t think they influenced us. We just played how we knew we could play.”
The Bearcats finished the season ranked ninth in the CFP polls and was selected to play in the Peach Bowl against Georgia. For Lawler, Playing in Mercedes-Benz Stadium was surreal.
“Mercedes-Benz Stadium is awesome,” he says. “I’ve never played in a dome before. I’ve played on some pretty big stages by now, but that was definitely the nicest stadium I’ve ever been to. It was a really good atmosphere, especially since when we played at home, we didn’t have any fans until the [AAC] championship game. So, we were kind of used to basically, like, playing at practice.”
The return of key players like quarterback Desmond Ridder, as well as the emergence of up and coming players, has Lawler confident that the team will repeat its success in 2021.
“I’m really confident,” Lawler says. “I feel good with the people who chose to stay and also happy for the people who decided to move on. But I feel like we have a lot of younger guys that are up and coming and are gonna be really good players. So I feel like we’re gonna be a good team again.”
Before I let Nate go, I had to ask him the question that’s been on everyone’s mind since the start of the college football season.
“Could Cincinnati beat Michigan?”
He begins to answer, then stops himself. He looks around as if to see if someone is spying on him from around the corner. Then, he acquiesces and let’s out a single word.