MENLO — Willapa Valley coaches are hopeful that a slight change in offensive emphasis will help the Vikings maintain a football tradition.
Expected to employ a passing game more frequently than in the past, the Vikings will be seeking their 15th straight postseason berth this year. They’ll open the season Sept. 6 at South Bend in the non-league half of their league/non-league rivalry.
Ranked as high as fourth in the state, the Vikings won their first seven starts last year before falling to Raymond in a Pacific League championship showdown and to Mossyrock in a state-qualifying crossover playoff game. The latter loss broke a streak of seven consecutive state appearances, but Valley hasn’t failed to gain some type of postseason slot since 1998.
Although willingly conceding the league favorite’s role to Raymond, Valley coach Greg Wonhoff believes his club should be able to at least match last year’s 7-2 record.
“I’m expecting that, maybe more,” he said.
The Vikes return four offensive starters from a year ago, but two of those will be manning different positions.
The most striking change will be at quarterback. Senior Matt Konigsberger, a two-year starter at QB, shifts to tight end this year as sophomore Jason Fluke moves behind center.
Those changes will be part of a domino effect offensively. Senior Drew Pearson, the starting tight end last year, is converting to guard to fill a hole left by the graduation of two-way all-leaguer Zack Friese.
With Konigsberger — a fine all-around athlete who was primarily a running quarterback — providing a receiving threat, Wonhoff is optimistic that the traditional ground-oriented Vikings will be more balanced offensively this season. Valley even won a 7-on-7 passing tournament in Warrenton, Ore., during the summer.
A longtime assistant in his second year as head coach, Wonhoff said he was inspired to focus more on an air attack after watching quarterback Russell Wilson’s development with the Seattle Seahawks.
“I want to pass the ball more,” he said. “Matt Konigsberger can catch the ball and Jason Fluke can scramble…It’s going to be play-action, we’re not going to be a drop-back team. It’s still going to be run first.”
Senior Cody Buchanan, Valley’s most experienced running back, was feared to be lost for the season with a broken leg suffered during a summer camp. But Buchanan, according to Wonhoff, has been cleared to return to practice in mid-September and may be available for game action by early October.
The remainder of Valley’s running backs — Seth Flemetis, Trevor Cook and Anthony Sagen — are all sophomores.
The bulk of Valley’s experience is up front, with senior Randy Heckard and junior Blake Moore returning at guard and juniors Damien Redding and Trevor Ritzman at center. Either Heckard or Moore could convert to tackle, where they would join senior starter Stephen Camenzind and sophomore Brendyn Graves. Junior Dylan Barrett and sophomore Hunter Gray will alternate at wide receiver.
Pearson and Heckard at end, Camenzind and Graves at tackle, Konigsberger, Sagen and Flemetis at linebacker and Cook and Gray in the secondary are among the defensive regulars.
“I think we’re going to be fine as long as we can stay healthy,” Wonhoff summed up. “Last year, we had 35 kids (turning out). This year, it’s 22-23. That’s a big deal for us.”
John Peterson and Bob Archer return as assistant coaches, with Mike Marte, Dave Ege and Eric Clements serving as volunteer aides.