Vale football coach Jeff Aldred talks to his team at practice last week. The Vikings will open their season against Parma in Parma Sept. 3. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

VALE – If experience is an ingredient for success on the football field, the Vale Vikings will enter the season with a lot of opportunity.

Coach Jeff Aldred said last week that this season’s Viking roster will showcase nine returning starters in key positions on defense and offense.

The Viking program will also be larger than it has been, with 45 players.

“I have more kids out than I have had in quite awhile,” said Aldred.

“Last time we had 45 was 2016,” said Aldred.

Vale will open the season with the tandem of quarterback Tanner Steele and receiver John Wolfe in place.

Wolfe proved to be a reliable and frequent big-play target for Steele during the abbreviated spring season.

Vale’s game against La Grande in the spring – a 21-19 loss for the Vikings – personifies the Steele-Wolfe partnership.

Steele hooked up with Wolfe on two touchdown passes in the first quarter of the game and later tossed a touchdown strike to Wolfe that was called back because of a pass interference penalty.

“When things break down, he looks for Wolfe,” said Aldred.

Steele said he and Wolfe have been practicing and playing football together since they were kids.

While he conceded Wolf is often a key target, he isn’t the only weapon he can turn to during a game.

“We have a lot of other tough receivers too,” said Steele.

Steel and Wolfe said while they have united to score a lot of touchdowns, they are just one of a number of cogs in the Viking machine.

“We have a good senior group and we want to go a long way,” said Wolfe.

Aldred said his seniors will be the linchpin to the season.

The Vale Vikings line up to run blocking drills after their first day back to school on Friday, Aug. 20. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

Along with Wolfe and Steele, the Vikings can depend on seniors Jackson Schaffeld (offensive lineman/linebacker), William Tolman (offensive/defensive line), Nathan Kimball (running back) Colt Cummings (linebacker) along with sophomore Eli Aldred (defensive line).

“We also have some fantastic other players who are maybe more geared to one side of the ball or the other,” said Aldred.

Aldred said practices have been good and also offer a degree of stability for the players even as the Covid pandemic rages.

Steele said he is pleased there will be fans in the bleachers this season

During the shortened spring season where Vale finished 2-3 only relatives of the players were allowed to attend. Steele said the spring season was “better than nothing.”

“But obviously it wasn’t ideal,” said Steele.

The Vikings will once again compete inside a hybrid Oregon School Activities Association conference that includes teams from the 3A Eastern Oregon League – Vale, Nyssa, Burns – with football teams from the 4A Greater Oregon League – La Grande, Ontario, Baker City.

However, at playoff time, teams in the two conferences will revert to their 4A and 3A classifications.

Vale opens its regular season Friday, Sept. 3, at Parma.

The Vikings then play La Pine at home on Sept. 10 before going on the road to face La Grande Sept. 17.

Aldred said he likes Vale’s chances.

“I like our toughness and I like our staff and what we do week to week in putting a game plan together,” he said.

Aldred said he wasn’t sure there would be any one dominant team on the schedule.

He said La Grande will be good again, while Ontario is young but “the older kids they have are very good.”

Aldred said the La Pine game will be big because of a rivalry tracing to the 1990s.

“That will be as close to a playoff game atmosphere as you can get that early in the season,” said Aldred.

Vale Vikings warm up and get loose before they run practice drills after their first day back to school on Friday, Aug. 20. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

Vale High School football coach Jim Sheffield watches his players closely during a blocking drill on Friday, Aug. 20. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

Vale Vikings take the practice field after their first day back to school on Friday, Aug. 20. (AUSTIN JOHNSON/The Enterprise)

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

Previous coverage:

La Grande slides by Vale while Adrian adds another win in weekend prep football action

Rainier overpowers Vale in semifinal football contest

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