VALE – The Vale prep football program doesn’t rebuild after a season.
This season is a prime example of that as the Vikings will once again put an experienced squad on the gridiron on the way to what could be yet another appearance in the playoffs.
Yet this year the usual Friday night lights atmosphere will feel – and look – a little different. That’s because the bleachers at Frank Hawley Field are gone as a project to install new grandstands remains stalled.
While the landscape at the field may be unfamiliar to fans, a large portion of the Viking athletes who will be on the field during the 2022 season are accustomed to varsity competition.
“We have a lot of guys that have a lot of game experience that are returning. We have a pretty loaded sophomore class and we will have some starters out of that class,” said Vale coach Jeff Aldred.
The Vikings will be forced to replace two key impact players who graduated – former quarterback Tanner Steele and receiver John Wolfe. Steel and Wolfe will both now play at the College of Southern Idaho.
Aldred, though, believes the pieces are in place for another year of Viking success, especially at quarterback where senior Colton Stepleton is slated to take snaps.
“He has a lot of varsity experience, has a good arm and is a hard worker,” said Aldred.
Other key starters back for Vale are seniors Eli Aldred, Owen Crane, Will Friend and Charlie Lamb.
Aldred will be the Vikings’ primary running back while Crane will fill the middle linebacker position.
“He is going to have a big year,” said Aldred.
Friend will anchor an experienced defensive line while Lamb will play receiver and defensive back.
The offensive line, said Aldred, will also be in solid shape with two senior starters, Trevor Bates and Steven Colyer.
Aldred said he likes the way his defense is shaping up, too.
“We are going to be extremely athletic and very fast defensively. We will be able to be very versatile with the types of athletes we have,” said Aldred.
This season marks Aldred’s eighth at the helm of the Viking program. The Vikings have reached the postseason every year he’s been coach except the shortened Covid campaign.
“I’m excited. We have a very good group of athletes, a very committed, blue-collar group. They’re kind of all business,” said Aldred.
The Vikings will begin the 2022 season in the shadow of a state semi-final playoff loss to then No. 3-ranked South Umpqua.
This year proficiency is the watchword for the Vikings.
“We have a hardnosed senior class with a lot of varsity experience,” said Aldred.
Aldred said 53 athletes are out for the football season – 10 more than last year.
The high numbers bode well for Vale’s chances, said Aldred.
“That helps create depth,” he said.
The Vikings will still compete in the Eastern Oregon League but the conference will showcase some new teams this season.
Nyssa, Vale and Burns will be joined by newcomers Ontario and McLoughlin High School of Milton-Freewater.
Aldred said Burns will be another tough game for the Vikings but he isn’t sure about the other squads in the league.
The Vikings will also play non-league games against Parma, New Plymouth, Melba and Baker.
The Vikings open the season Sept. 2 at home against Irrigon.
In some ways this season may be one of Aldred’s most challenging because the absence of a press box will limit how he calls a game.
Part of his coaching staff typically watches the field from the press box and gives Aldred a bird’s-eye view of how the contest is progressing.
That won’t happen this year.
“The big thing is sight. There are parts of the field you can’t see. Little things like what hash you are on or how close we are to a first down. Those things you can’t typically see from the sideline and they really determine play calls,” said Aldred.
“We will adapt. We will just have to adjust,” he said.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].
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