Disappointment inspirational to Valley
A fourth-quarter touchdown pass on the final night of the regular season was all that kept the Valley Vikings from making a return trip to the WPIAL playoffs.
Burrell's 13-9 victory eliminated Valley from the postseason a year ago, but even though the Vikings missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, the returning players and coaches are using that game as motivation for 2005.
"We're starting right off from that Burrell game," Valley second-year coach Troy Hill said. "That's where we left the momentum. We left on a high note after last season and we're excited about this season."
"The goal of the team this year is making the playoffs," said four-year starter Tyler Santucci.
With returning players such as quarterback Anthony Howell (1,097 yards passing) and game-breaking wide receivers such as Toney Clemons, tops in the Alle-Kiski Valley during the regular season with 34 catches, the optimism at Valley is well-founded.
"These guys are starting to learn how to win," Hill said. "These guys got experience in playing in the fourth quarter and playing from behind. That basically can make any team better."
One of the bigger off-season moves was to switch Santucci to tight end, giving the Vikings another offensive weapon.
"We want to expose his offensive side, too," Hill said. "He's probably got one of the best pairs of hands on the team."
Valley spent the first week of the preseason in camp at St. Joseph's Academy in Greensburg, now a home for retired priests of the Greensburg Diocese and at times a training area for Pennsylvania state troopers.
"It's very expensive to go away to camp for any program," Hill said. "But it helps the kids bond together. Any team that goes away, it has to be beneficial to the team. Once they're at camp -- they're mine."
One of the first goals in the preseason is to replace departed running backs Logan Downes and Curt Carion, who combined for 835 yards rushing in 2004.
"We do have some depth, but a lot of these guys are untested," Hill said. "This year, for a lot of guys, it's going to be very competitive. No one has a starting position, not even Toney, not even Tyler. What you did last year doesn't mean a thing."
One of the backs vying for a starting job will be senior Jordan Kozik, who rushed for 61 yards as a reserve last year but is getting contacts from smaller colleges.
Valley will lift the curtain on its 39th football season Friday at Highlands, and Hill doesn't mind starting off the campaign against a geographic rival.
"I think it's great for football," said Hill, a former Pitt defensive back. "Any time you can go up against a rival, it's exciting. (Highlands) Coach Sam Albert made me a part of his staff when he was here at Valley and I have a lot of respect for Sam Albert."
Valley will begin its home season at Memorial Stadium against Jeannette, the third-winningest program in WPIAL history.
The Vikings are seeking a milestone of their own, needing two victories to reach the 200-mark in school history.
Santucci spent many of his nights as a youngster watching Valley win many of those games.
"Valley tradition's very high here," Santucci said. "My uncles, my cousins all have played for Valley. I'm going to have a good feeling when we win that 200th game."
The Vikings also will face key road games in conference play at Kittanning and Burrell.