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Fighting for a shot at first

Favored by many to win the Foothill League, Vikings not taking training camp lightly

Posted: August 21, 2009 9:15 p.m.
Updated: August 22, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Valencia defensive coordinator Robert Waters instructs a Valencia player during training camp Wednesday at Valencia High School.

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By most accounts, the Valencia Vikings are the most talented football team in the Foothill League.

Stars return at several positions. The coaching staff knows how good the team can be.

The pieces are in place to capture the second league title in school history, and maybe more.

So with all that at stake, it makes sense that preseason camp would be a little more relaxed.

Yeah, right.

“We’ve got to figure out a way to exceed expectations,” said Valencia head coach Larry Muir. “We’ve got to make it a part of who we are. This summer, we made everything we could competitive. The more we compete, the better we get.”

Watching the Valencia players practice against each other, one would think it was the CIF playoffs.

Ball carriers lower their shoulders and bowl right into defenders — including returning all-league defensive back Brock Vereen, who drives them to the ground with authority.

Returning all-league receiver Zach Tartabull refuses to go out of bounds after a catch, even on a simple out route.

Fights break out with surprising regularity, and several players often swarm in to break them up.

But it isn’t a sign of undisciplined football.

It’s a sign of a team that’s not sitting on its potential.

“We like to see the competitive spirit in the guys,” Muir says. “They’re fighting for jobs and positions. Sometimes it gets a little emotional. Afterwards, they’re still teammates.”

Valencia had a chance to clinch at least a share of the Foothill League title last fall, but lost to Saugus 31-24 at Paul A. Priesz Stadium in week nine.

The game wasn’t as close as the score indicates, as the Centurions built a 28-10 halftime lead.

The Vikings seem motivated to reclaim the Foothill League crown this season.

It’s something that compels the returnees to drill one another on the field.

“That’s an everyday practice,” said senior defensive back Jabari Howard. “No positions are set. You can never take a practice off because people are coming for your spot.”

Muir noted that the newcomers haven’t missed a beat.

He said that after spending last season primarily on junior varsity, the young players have done a good job competing with the veterans.

The coaches take pride in it.

Defensive coordinator Robert Waters beamed at a recent practice when a sophomore tailback stood up to a senior and briefly scrapped with him after a play.

He expressed his delight to anyone within earshot.

“When you have returners, you have a certain amount of confidence,” Muir said. “But at the same time, how physical can you get them to play? You’re trying to make it a part of them.”

But the coaches can’t get too reckless, either.

The intensity at practice will help when the season begins in three weeks, but preseason injuries to key players could prove costly for a team with such high expectations.

“You’re pushing to get that physicality, pushing to get (the kids) to play as physical as they can,” Muir said. “It’s a balance because you’re trying to push, but you’re also trying to avoid injuries.”

Additionally, the players had a three-week layoff before practice began in mid-August, so the coaches had to get them up to speed quickly.

“Sometimes you’ve got to kick-start them a little bit,” Muir said. “We’re fighting to get them to be competitive and physical, and they’ve responded well.”

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