VALE – High expectations are nothing new for the Vale High School football team.
Trailed by one of the richest prep gridiron traditions in the state, the Vikings expect victory but this year those expectations may be just a bit higher than usual.
That’s because the 2023 football squad is chock full of veteran players, all of them with experience in postseason play.
That experience may be the X factor for the Vikings, said Coach Jeff Aldred.
“We were young last year and had a lot of first-year starters. Most of them are back,” said Aldred.
Key returning starters on offense include seniors Kase Schaffeld at running back, Colten Stepleton, a 6-foot-2 quarterback, wide receiver Brooks Haueter and tight end Damick Eddy.
Back to anchor the offensive line is 6-foot-4 junior Gino Longoni. Last year, Longoni was named Eastern Oregon League offensive lineman of the year.
Then there is junior defensive end Jake DeVoss.
“He’s going to be someone who opens a lot of eyes this year,” said Aldred.
The Vikings ended the 2022 season with a 7-3 record and lost to Kennedy High School 14-12 in a playoff quarterfinal game.
The narrow loss to Kennedy – which lost to Cascade Christian in the state championship game – lingered for the Vikings, said Aldred.
“The Kennedy game, there were a couple of things, if the ball bounces a certain way, it goes our way. I think for the young kids, it made a pretty big impression on them. I think there is a twinge of hunger with this group to prove something,” said Aldred.
Aldred said from the moment the 2022 season ended, he talked to his team about “some of the expectations going into this year.”
Aldred said while he is optimistic about the upcoming season, he said it is important keep the focus on each week.
“We will get everybody’s best shot and we have to understand that, as a group, not to overlook any opponent,” he said.
Aldred said about 40 youth are out for football this year and each year delivers a different set of challenges.
“Creating an offensive identity is something we need to look at early in the year. But I am really excited about what we will have defensively coming right out of the gate,” said Aldred.
The Vikings hit a big challenge in their first game when they will play Santiam Christian in Umatilla, Saturday, Sept. 2. Santiam Christian ended last season with a 9-2 record and reached the state quarterfinals before losing to Banks.
“That game will be a really good barometer for us. It is an important game for us. I expect it to be a battle right out of the gate,” said Aldred.
Vale’s first home game will be Friday, Sept. 8, against nonleague opponent New Plymouth.
The Eastern Oregon League will look a bit different this year. Ontario is back in the Greater Oregon League. That means the league will consist of Vale, Burns, McLoughlin, Umatilla and Nyssa.
Since 2013, the Vikings either won a state championship or lost to the eventual state runner-up or state champion.
Aldred said he and his coaching staff already received a taste of where the 2023 edition of the Vikings are in terms of outlook.
Last week, Aldred and his staff were busy in processing physicals from players and getting equipment and did not get out to the practice field on time. When they finally finished and made it out to the field they were surprised.
“The kids had already warmed up and then split themselves up into groups and were working on individual drills. We’ve not seen that before,” said Aldred.
That is indicative of his team.
“We have motivated kids who have high goals for themselves. They’re tough and committed and we are excited for the season,” said Aldred.
News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected].
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