Not long after Josh Stratton was hired as Canal Winchester High School football coach last December, he began evaluating his new players on film.

Jacob Robertson, a 5-foot-11, 210-pound fullback, immediately caught Stratton's eye, and not necessarily for the right reasons.

Robertson rushed for 603 yards and six touchdowns on 97 carries, but it was how he gained those yards -- and potentially lost more -- that stood out to Stratton.

"Last year, he tried to bounce stuff outside and make people miss and that's not who he is. That's not his skill set at all," Stratton said. "He runs downhill behind pads and that's what we want. We don't want negative runs and we want to grind it out. We want to get a lot of snaps and run it right at (opponents) and wear them down.

"It really helps when you have a 210-pound back to do it with. You won't take him down with one guy."

Robertson's change in philosophy to more of a fullback-type style has paid dividends and allowed him to almost exceed last year's production in just four games. The senior has rushed for 513 yards and five touchdowns on 100 carries to help lead the Indians to a 2-2 record entering a Thursday, Sept. 21, home game against Westland.

Robertson embraced the zone scheme within Stratton's spread offense, which has helped Canal Winchester roll up 81 points in three games since a 27-20, double-overtime loss to Thomas Worthington on Aug. 25 to start the season.

A left ankle injury kept Robertson out of a 47-21 loss at Westerville North on Sept. 15.

"Last year, I'd look for one hole and I'd hit it," Robertson said. "This year, I am going where I want to go and where I fit. The changes in the line and the offense changed my whole style.

"I didn't expect this fast of a start, but I have the guys up front pushing for me. It's all up to them. I love the contact. I am the type of guy to initiate contact. I don't run away."

Despite leading the team in rushing, Robertson shrugged off a suggestion that he's the focal point of the offense. Quarterback Jack Beeler has completed 41 of 73 passes for 479 yards with two touchdown and three interceptions, and tailback Tyler Toledo has added 205 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries.

"We have other backs, faster guys and shifty guys," Robertson said. "I just step forward, do my job and take what I can get."

Robertson's success is no surprise to right tackle Connor Marshall, a friend of Robertson's since second grade.

"Ever since seventh- or eighth-grade, he's always been the guy who will make somebody miss or run somebody over at the end of a run," Marshall said. "That's what I expect from Jake. It makes you want to block even harder for him."

Westland comes in at 1-3, off a 41-28 loss to Franklin Heights on Sept. 15.

Quarterback Tyquwone Workman completed nine of 18 passes for 223 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for the Cougars, who trailed 29-10 at halftime.

This week is special on a personal level for Stratton and his wife, Stacey, who graduated from Westland in 1998 and 2000, respectively. His parents, Jeff and Laura, remain area residents and his brother, Jake, is a Prairie Township firefighter and 2002 graduate of Westland.

"My family is pretty ingrained in that community and it's something that is kind of important to me," Stratton said. "It always will be. I will always have a sense of pride about being from there, a Westland graduate, but I'm a Canal Winchester Indian. (This) week, they're definitely my enemy and I hope to be victorious."

While Robertson has shouldered the load so far, Stratton is wary of giving him too many carries. Robertson averaged 33.3 carries per game in his first three games, roughly seven more than Stratton would prefer.

"Eventually that will wear on him," Stratton said. "We won't throw the ball 35 times a game -- that's not who we are -- but we will throw it 25 times and hopefully be efficient at it. This offense has always been about wearing defenses down."

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave