The Vikings plan on picking up right where they left off last year.
“Even though we’re still playing a tough El Dorado team, and Fernley and Fallon, we’re really focusing on coming out faster and stronger in the beginning and not getting behind,” head coach Kevin Hennesse said. “Last year going to playoffs, was the difference of one win.”
That one win that South Tahoe needed to make playoffs last year came down to a final game against Truckee — a four-time consecutive state championship team that has won 47 of its last 48 games. The Vikings put up a good fight, finishing 5-4 in league, but in the end their 0-4 start to the season cost them a postseason.
This year, the Vikings want to collect that extra win early. It won’t be easy.
They’re still facing a grueling early season schedule, and the second half doesn’t look much easier. There aren’t any givens in the Northern Division I-A, and South Tahoe is typically one of the smaller schools in the pack.
South Tahoe’s first league games will be against the same three schools — Fernley (6-3), Fallon (7-2) and Lowry (8-1) — that it went 0-3 against to kick off last season.
But in high school football, it all comes down to who graduated and who’s stepping up, and this year the Vikings are loaded with returning contributors.
“Yeah, we’re missing some big guy like Cale (Backinger), John (Cefalu), Kyante (Wilson) and (Jason Rogers), guys like that,” Hennessee said. “But I think we’ve got more guys overall who can contribute. More guys we can lean on this year.”
Losing a state-leading quarterback and offensive MVP, like Cefalu, wasn’t easy. Neither was losing All-State, 200-plus-pound players, like Wilson and Backinger, but the Vikings still have plenty of experience on the roster and plenty of guys who can step up.
“There’s too many of those guys we’re counting on this year, and it’s too hard to single out one of them,” Hennessee said. “We’re just going to try to get everybody to contribute and not put the win on one guy.”
Some of those key returning contributors this year will be running backs Dillon Gardner, Tyler Nickerson and Kyle Miller, who was sidelined last year with a knee injury.
As a sophomore, Gardner was the Vikings leading running back last year. He rushed for 175 yards in 10 games and recorded three touchdowns despite being one of the youngest players on the field.
“I think we’re going to probably be a better running team,” Hennessee said. “There’s going to be a little bit more experience there.”
Corey McCarthy, who wasn’t on the varsity team last year, will step up as starting quarterback. Returning senior Jared Fajman and junior Kirby David will fill the receiver void.
A speedy varsity addition named Brandon Erickson will also be receiving along with returner Stone Merkley.
Christen Bishop at offensive guard, Matt Herring at offensive tackle and newcomer River Quinn at corner will also be players to watch this year.
“So now it’s just going to be if we can get everybody to come together,” Hennessee said.