ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The assumption, the Valley Vikings insist, is wrong.
Don’t, they say, make the mistake of looking at the 2014 Vikings and imagining a precipitous drop-off from their historic 2013 campaign.
“We’re gonna win,” said third-year head coach Rico Marcelli. “I don’t care what they say. We’re gonna win some football games. We’ve got our standard set.”
Valley is coming off a spectacular season, perhaps the best in the school’s history. The Vikings had a district championship, an undefeated regular season and a No. 1 seed for the Class 5A playoffs.
That it ended disastrously with a 68-36 state semifinal loss to eventual state champion Las Cruces has not diminished Valley’s expectations, not even with the graduation of virtually every offensive starter.
“It obviously helps when you have a senior class like that,” said Marcelli. “(But the new guys) have seen what the road is to take to be successful.”
Only two of 11 offensive starters are back, including senior tailback C.J. Torres. Which is why expectations – outside the North Valley, anyway – are tempered compared to the previous two seasons.
“I think our expectations are pretty high still,” said senior wide receiver/safety Jaime Ramirez. “Even though we are replacing a lot of guys. As a group, filling in those shoes … we can easily step into those roles.”
Valley opens Aug. 29 at Rio Rancho.
Marcelli is replacing virtually all his skill-position athletes and nearly his entire offensive line.
But, despite myriad newcomers, including quarterback Jordan Velasquez – who replaces three-year starter Bo Coleman – Marcelli promises an offense that will move even more quickly in 2014 than it did in 2013.
This hinges on Velasquez’s efficiency, and on a mostly new offensive line that returns only senior guard Isaac Chavez.
“They’re coming along,” Marcelli said of the line. “If they come around, then we’ll be a team that score 35 to 40 points. If they don’t, we’ll have to be creative.”
Velasquez is one of the state’s top defensive backs and with his superior speed, he’ll be more of a running QB than Coleman was.
“I don’t think teams will want to pressure him,” warned Marcelli. “He’s accurate; he just likes to scramble.”
Velasquez’s management of the offense will draw scrutiny this season, something which Velasquez is keenly aware of.
“It’s definitely a lot more pressure with me,” said Velasquez, a 5-foot-11, 180-pound senior. “I already had a lot of confidence. I’ve also wrestled for a long time, so I’m used to the big stage.”
With the loss of so many potent weapons – although not Torres, who rushed for about 900 yards last season – and a schedule that remains daunting, Valley’s offense will be tested, to be sure.
“I think we’ll be one of the hardest teams to bring down,” Velasquez said.
Ramirez and senior Lorenzo Herrera have some large shoes to step into after top receivers Aaron Molina, Russell Montoya and Troy Giddings graduated.
But on the plus side, the Vikings have seven defensive starters returning, led by Velasquez, and this is a big team, with about half a dozen players in the 290-pound ballpark.
This defense, Marcelli, is very strong in the secondary and along the front, led by 280-pound senior tackle Dominic Brown. Linebacker is the area where Valley has the most question marks, but the defense has five three-year starters.
“We’re gonna be solid on defense, which is going to take the pressure off the offense,” Marcelli said.
Said Ramirez: “I believe our defense will take us a long way. More than anyone thinks.”
Marcelli does not concede that a veteran and talented Atrisco Heritage squad is the preseason favorite in their district (5-6A), and in fact said his younger classes are further along than many might believe.
“I think the kids are there (to keep winning),” Marcelli said. “Our sophomore and junior classes were 8-0 on the JV the last two years, and we feel like we have developed some depth there.”
Velasquez said the strength of last season’s senior class was not limited to their own legacies. They were cognizant of passing along their experiences.
“They laid a great foundation,” Velasquez said. “They taught us how to win. We feel we can compete with just about any team in the state.”