That’s the approach of Tippecanoe Valley football coach Jeff Shriver as his talented team looks this fall to claim a sectional championship for the first time in two decades.
Shriver definitely has many key pieces to the puzzle back as his squad prepares for the season opener versus Culver Academy Aug. 17.
“It can be,” responded Shriver when asked if this Viking team could claim the first sectional title since 1992. “We have the right pieces to do it. We just have to get better every day.
“I think this team can be as good as it wants to be if we work hard and have good attitudes. Our goal is to win every game we play and we have the potential to do that. We want to make a run in the playoffs. It’s just a matter of putting the pieces together and improving every day as a team.”
The Vikings return a dozen starters from a 6-4 team, including a trio of extremely skilled players from an offense that topped the 50-point mark three times in 2011.
Ben Shriver, a 6-1, 172-pound junior, returns to run Valley’s wing-T based attack, which also includes run-and-shoot elements. Shriver completed 56-100 passes a year ago for almost 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns. Junior Tanner Andrews, a big target at 6-3, returns at receiver after a record-setting sophomore season in which he caught 32 passes for 821 yards and 10 scores. Junior Nolan Sponseller, a 5-10, 156-pounder, returns at running back after piling up 424 yards on just 39 carries a year ago.
“Those three were kind of baptized by fire on the varsity level last year,” said Shriver of his star junior trio. “They have a lot of experience now and a feel for how the game unfolds. They bring a lot of athleticism to the field. We have good skill people and know what they can do.”
Justin Gunter has not been full go yet for the Vikings due to a torn hamstring suffered during track season in the spring. The senior ran for 870 yards on 145 carries from his fullback spot in 2011 and was also second on the team in tackles while playing linebacker.
The key to Valley’s success will be to put together an offensive line to give the skill players a chance to showcase their talents. The Vikings return just two players up front in juniors Cameron Castle, who checks in at 5-10 and 232 pounds, and Nick Gamble, who is 6-2 and 276.
“We have some big holes to fill on our offensive line,” Shriver said. “That’s the biggest area of concern for us. A lot of our success will be determined by if we have time to throw the ball. If we control the line and the trenches, I think our offense will be better this year that last.”
Shriver has looked at a lot of linemen candidates through the first week of practices. Some of the candidates include Nate Morrison, Garrett Foust, Brennen Adams, Daryl Wright and Jacob Jennings. Morrison is a 6-5, 354-pound senior.
The Vikings will look to familiar names such as senior Jacob Ritchey (linebacker) and Andrews (cornerback) and Sponseller (safety) on defense. Sponseller led the team in tackles a year ago. Also key defensively will be Mason Teel, who moves from linebacker to cornerback, Dayton Cohagen at linebacker and players like Castle, Gamble, Foust, Adams and Morrison along the line.
Shriver, who has 61 players on his roster, said as many as eight players could start on both sides of the ball.
Valley, whose lone league loss in 2011 was a 24-15 setback at Whitko, is the favorite this time around in the Three Rivers Conference.
“I think we are one of the top teams in the league,” said Shriver. “But, you also have North Miami, Rochester and Whitko with strong squads. Rochester (Shriver’s alma mater) is our big rivalry. And I think Manchester will be a dark horse in the TRC this year.”
The Vikings will have a special game in week two. Valley faces Bremen at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 25 in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The game, one of four to be played that day at the home venue of the Colts, is part of the Horseshoe Hall of Fame Classic.
“We had a very good first five days of camp,” said Shriver. “The guys were extremely focused. We’re spending a lot of time each day on leadership, both on and off the football field. We think building those skills will help us come together as a team.
“The key for us is to stay healthy and focused. If we do that, we could have an outstanding year.”
2012 Tippecanoe Valley Football Schedule
Aug. 17: Culver Academy
Aug. 25: Bremen (2:30 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium)
Aug. 31: Manchester
Sept. 7: At Southwood
Sept. 14: Northfield
Sept. 21: At Wabash
Sept. 28: Rochester
Oct. 5: At North Miami
Oct. 12: Whitko