Coach Jeff Shriver wants to keep the fun in football for players in his Tippecanoe Valley High School program.
He also wants to make sure his players make the most of their opportunities.
Success was achieved on both fronts Saturday for about a dozen Vikings who took part in a truly unique experience in Indianapolis.
The Vikings turned in a strong performance in the 7-on-7 Tournament of Champions sponsored by the Indianapolis Colts and the Indiana National Guard. A total of 32 teams from all five classes were invited to the event held at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, the practice and training facility for the Colts on West 56th Street in the Circle City.
“This was a really neat opportunity for our kids and a special thing to be a part of,” said Shriver in a phone interview Sunday night. “We’re fortunate to get to do it. This was the second year for it and the second year we’ve been invited to take part.”
The tourney featured 32 teams from across the Hoosier State who played three pool play games and then participated in a single-elimination tournament. Another 32 teams will participate in another tourney at Homestead High School in Fort Wayne this coming Saturday.
Valley boarded a bus at 5 a.m. Saturday to make the trip downstate. The early morning wake-up call was well worth it too. The Vikings started their day with a loss to Indian Creek, but then beat Evansville Memorial and Danville to tie for first in their pool. Valley, who is Class 3-A, then beat Noblesville, a Class 5-A program, in the single-elimination tournament part of the event before wrapping up play with a loss to Cardinal Ritter.
“I thought our kids hung in there and played tough,” Shriver said. “We took a bunch of young kids down there (only three seniors). They played well. We were missing some players who had scheduling conflicts and couldn’t make the trip and our lack of depth hurt us late in the day.
“Our guys did a nice job competing. It was the first time we had the opportunity for some of them to be in our offensive and defensive sets. I was really pleased with the way our defense played. We went 3-2 and had the lead in the other two games and just did not finish.”
Shriver, who has been coaching in the Valley program for more than two decades, cited the play of seniors Dayton Cohagen (receiver/tight end), Mason Teel (cornerback/linebacker) and Jacob Ritchie (wing/linebacker) along with juniors Ben Shriver (quarterback) and Nolan Sponseller (safety/running back/wing) for their performances Saturday.
“It was a unique opportunity and a great thing to see different competition from other parts of the state,” said Shriver, who is 34-26 in six seasons as head coach after spending the previous 15 as an assistant at Valley. “Our guys got to see where the Colts practice and play on the same fields that they do. They got to do a lot of neat things like have their pictures taken with the Lombardi Trophy. We tell our kids they need to be thankful and grateful for opportunities like this, enjoy them and have fun with it.”
The Vikings, who finished 6-4 in 2011 and tied Rochester for the TRC title, also play in a 7-on-7 league each Tuesday night in Rochester which began last week.
Shriver, whose team returned home Saturday night, says there were many things to gain from the day-long experience.
“I think the big thing is that our guys gained confidence Saturday,” said Shriver, who will begin his seventh season as the Valley head coach this fall. “They should realize they have the ability to be as good as they want to be.
“Secondly, we had guys get better on Saturday. They improved every game and we were able to have our coaches work with them. And I really hope they had fun and just took in the opportunity. It was a special experience to get to be a part of.”
The Viking program will get another chance to be part of something special come August. Valley is slated to play Bremen on Saturday, Aug. 25 in the Horseshoe Classic at Lucas Oil Stadium (home of the Colts) in Indianapolis. The game, one of eight that weekend, is scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff.