AKRON – Taking a look at the young men head coach Steve Moriarty brought with him to the football media day event in Fort Wayne last month, you’d think Valley was bringing its basketball team to the showcase.
Coach Mo has more where that came from.
Size will be one of the assets the third-year head coach will have at his disposal this fall at Death Valley. The Vikes will have what Moriarty offered as ‘a handful of 300-pounders to grind’ as well as some big skill position players that should make Valley more dynamic. Valley will need that size to combat a tough schedule that has a physical and multi-dimensional Culver Academy team waiting in week one. That will let the Vikes know right away where they are at.
“That first year getting this thing turned around was tough, and then you throw in the start of last season with CMA and Bremen right away,” started Moriarty. “These kids really had to show their toughness and a willingness to play hard for each other. Once we started rolling a little bit, we win five of six games and play for a conference championship, I think we took that momentum from last season and brought it into the summer.”
Valley’s 2018 season had the team regain some of the respectability Moriarty vowed to bring back to Death Valley. A 6-5 campaign on paper might not look like much of a revival, but the Vikes were one play away from winning the Three Rivers Conference outright after winning the TRC North. The championship loss at Southwood in overtime was a stinger, but got Valley back into big games it hadn’t seen in years. Valley then went on to win a sectional game for the first time in six years before being knocked out of the state playoffs by Maconaquah a week later.
Valley welcomes back Tanner Trippiedi at quarterback. The senior did not play his junior season, electing to guide the Unified Flag Football team to the IHSAA State Finals in its inaugural season. Valley, though, will not be exclusively Trippiedi under center to start the season. Sophomore Branson McBrier took reps with the first team at the scrimmage Friday night and has earned some trust with Moriarty during summer workouts. Trippiedi got in some work in the slot, and was split out wide during some sequences.
Whether it’s McBrier or Trippiedi under center, they will have some big targets to sling the ball. Jace Potter, a 6-4 receiver, and Ross O’Connor, a 6-2 tight end, will highlight the passing game for Valley. Potter was involved in some very memorable moments last year, making a circus catch against Rochester that helped Valley to a 13-7 Bell win. O’Connor returns from a year in Michigan to provide a second target.
“It’s really just hard work, being a leader in the weight room and working hard at practice to keep Death Valley going,” Potter said.
Added O’Connor, “You just have to work harder each day. We know there’s a lot of pride in this program and we want to get it back to where it should be.”
The Vikings will have to address its rushing game. Gone are three of its top four rushers, including 1,000-yard back Cam Parker. Dakota Gaff and Jaydin Conley could fill some of those roles, Gaff eclipsing 400 yards rushing last fall and Conley averaging almost six yards a tote in his workload.
Up front, Valley will have a lot of beef to protect its backfield. Wade Melanson, Trey Hardesty and Michael Sexton are all listed north of 300 pounds and Wawasee transfer Haegan Slusher could eventually impact the line play.
“Our size is going to be the strength of our team, both on our offensive and defensive lines,” Moriarty said. “We have the kids to block and fill up space, and when you are trying to replace someone like a Cam Parker in the backfield, you need that extra security to give them time to adjust.”
Three of Valley’s six wins last year had the defense hold its opponents to seven points. Moriarty feels his defense heading into 2019 is capable of posting similar numbers.
The Vikes will have to replace all three of its linebackers, losing Alex Morrison, Wes Melanson and Dwight Conley. Moriarty is pointing to players like Johnny Gonsalez, Jasten Snapp and Jacob Eherenman to fill the void. Both Potters, Alex Craft and Trippiedi could shore up the secondary. O’Connor, Slusher and Harry Johnston should provide decent pass rush on the defensive line.
Valley opens up its 2019 campaign at Culver Academy before hosting Northfield on Aug. 30 to open TRC play.