EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, the West Side Journal/Rio Rancho Journal continues its series previewing the 2011 high school football season.
For about the last five years, the football-loving fans in the North Valley have found themselves thinking the same thing:
Just wait, they said, until this special group gets to Valley.
Well, that time has arrived.
A good chunk of Valley’s much-heralded Class of 2014 is now ready for varsity competition. Indeed, the Vikings will probably carry more sophomores on the roster in 2011 than in any of coach Vince Collins’ previous 18 seasons.
“It’s one of the strongest overall classes (I’ve had),” said Collins, starting his 19th season.
Probably, he said, this is Valley’s best overall class since the late 1990s when the Vikings produced some solid playoff-caliber squads.
But the larger question is, can this group make an impact?
Many of these sophomores were part of five Super Bowl championships in YAFL, including wins in their junior and senior seasons (2008 and 2009). And they went undefeated last year as high school freshmen.
But while this group carries high expectations for 2011 and beyond, there are two salient points that must be made.
First, not every member of all those Super Bowl-winning YAFL teams are still playing football — either in general, or at Valley. There have been some personnel losses in that regard.
Second, for the first time in their lives, this group will be playing up in age. They’ve been beating up on teams their own age for years; now they’ve got to deal with rivals who are stocked with players bigger and older than they are.
“There are a lot more bigger, better and faster guys, so we have to step up to the challenge,” said quarterback Bo Coleman, a sophomore.
The Vikings are surely rebuilding, coming off a tough 3-7 season that included tough losses to Alamogordo and Volcano Vista.
There are only three starters back: senior center Damian Rodarte, junior linebacker Isaac Stevens and junior slot back Esteban Loera.
“Last year,” Rodarte said, “we had everyone there, but we didn’t put it all together. This year, the (younger players) are really gonna help us a lot. They have a good attitude because they’re winners.”
Valley has perhaps a dozen 10th-graders who will need to play vital roles this year. The Vikings, Collins said, also need last year’s top JV talent to fill positions and fill them well.
“The key will be, if these younger kids are not quite ready, will the older players, a bunch of them up from the JV, step up, and help these young kids develop?” Collins said. “If both happen, we’ll win. But when you get a blend like this with hardly any veterans coming back, it’s very fragile.”
Valley opens Aug. 26 against Del Norte.
With a “super young” offensive line, according to Collins, there will be some pressure on untested varsity players to excel at the skill positions.
“Offensively, I think we’ll be very exciting,” Collins said.
The defense is even younger, and Collins is certainly more concerned about that side of the ball.
“They’re all so used to winning, but we’re super, super young,” he said. “That usually spells a little trouble.”
Said Stevens: “We lost a bunch of our talent, but we have a lot of heart this year. I’m excited to see these young kids play.”
In District 5-5A, there has been much upheaval since last season. The other four schools — Highland, West Mesa, Rio Grande, Albuquerque High — have new head coaches.
The Vikings hope to threaten West Mesa for second place in District 5-5A. Collins believes Highland is a strong favorite.
“We have a fighting chance,” Collins said.
The youth movement has begun.