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. The Vikings had a district championship, an undefeated regular season and a No. 1 seed for the Class 5A playoffs.
Valley opens this season rated No. 10 in the
Journal’s countdown of the top 10 teams in the metro area.
When last we saw the Vikings, they were being crushed 68-36 in state semifinals by eventual state champion Las Cruces. But that 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.”
Marcelli is replacing virtually all his skill-position athletes and nearly the entire offensive line.
But, despite myriad newcomers, including quarterback Jordan Velasquez – who replaces three-year starter Bo Coleman, last year’s player of the year – Marcelli promises an offense that will operate with even more urgency in 2014 than it did a year ago.
This hinges on Velasquez’s efficiency, and on a 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, 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.
Newcomers Ramirez and senior Lorenzo Herrera step in at receiver for the graduated Aaron Molina, Russell Montoya and Troy Giddings.
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 vicinity.
This defense, Marcelli, is 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 said his young 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.”