Members of the Vale football team conduct tire drills during practice last week. The Vikings will open the 2019 season with a deep reservoir of talent and experience. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

VALE – High expectations are nothing new to the Vale football program, where league championships and a deep run into the post season are the rule rather than the exception.

This year, those lofty goals remain but the 2019 edition of the Viking grid squad may be in one of the best positions for post season triumph since its state championship title run in 2015.

The Vikings will return seven starters on defense and six on offense and will also be able to rely on a corps of players that gained experience last year when Vale reached the semi-finals in state playoff action.

“I would classify it as a veteran team,” said coach Jeff Aldred.

[ KEEP YOUR LOCAL NEWS STRONG - SUBSCRIBE ]

Leading the key returners for the Vikings are senior quarterback Colton Kesey and senior linebacker Jared Fulwyler. Kesey proved indispensable last season as he steered the Viking offense, said Aldred.

“Colton plays big and runs well. He is a true dual-threat quarterback. He does crucial things well and is a sharp player,” said Aldred.

Fulwyler, a key piece of the Viking defense, said Vale is ready to hit the field.

“I think we will be pretty good. We have kids ready to play,” he said last week.

Another key player back for the Vikings is senior running back Keegan Mizuta. Mizuta was sidelined for most of the season last year battling an injury but Aldred said the now-healthy running back will make a difference this fall.

“I am trying to be realistic, but I feel really good. The depth will play out well with us. We are athletic, fast and deep,” said Aldred.

Vale’s depth means many starters who saw double-duty on offense and defense last year will only play on one side of the ball this year. That is critical, said Aldred. 

The Vikings, who finished 7-5 last year, will once again face another grueling non-league schedule before they open Eastern Oregon League action against Nyssa Oct. 11 at home.

Vale will face Parma, Ontario, Weiser, Gooding and Homedale before league play starts.

“It (the preseason schedule) is a double-edged sword. But it will make you a better team,” said Aldred.

Aldred said the Eastern Oregon League won’t be a cakewalk as he sees both traditional grid foes Nyssa and Burns being tough. 

“And Irrigon is on the upswing,” said Aldred.

Aldred said another advantage the Vikings have this year is their playoff time in 2018. A run deep in the playoffs creates experienced players, he said. While he is confident in his team, Aldred said he wants to “take it one week at a time.”

“The expectation in Vale is to win the league and go deep into the playoffs. This team embodies those expectations and will try hard to achieve them,” said Aldred.

Have a news tip? Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

For the latest news, follow the Enterprise on Facebook and Twitter.

SUBSCRIBE TO HELP PRODUCE VITAL REPORTING -- For $5 a month, you get breaking news alerts, emailed newsletters and around-the-clock access to our stories. We depend on subscribers to pay for in-depth, accurate news produced by a professional and highly trained staff. Help us grow and get better with your subscription. Sign up HERE.