There’s an air of excitement in Bryan Gray’s voice when he talks about his 2009 East Hall football team.
It isn’t because there’s a superstar waiting in the wings, though there might be. Nor is his tone a result of an experienced coach knowing he has the type of team that will make a run at the playoffs, though the Vikings could.
What has Gray excited and more importantly, hopeful is the experience that this year’s squad has — even though it’s the youngest group he’s coached.
“I know this is going to sound wierd,” Gray said, “but this is the most experienced team I’ve had while at East Hall, but it’s also the youngest.
“These guys all played youth football and played in middle school, it’s pretty exciting.”
What is seemingly commonplace for most other programs, isn’t at East Hall where for the past two years Gray has pulled from the basketball court and baseball diamond to field a team on the gridiron.
“We’ve got about 900 kids at East Hall which makes us a mid-range Class AA school,” Gray said. “We just don’t have to kids to draw from.
“But anytime anybody has watched us play they say, ‘Wow you have got great athletes,’” he added. “And we do, we have incredible athletes, but we haven’t had many true football players.”
According to Gray, that isn’t the case this year which allows him and his staff to focus less on the intricacies of the game and more on what he thinks will make his team competitive this season.
“With the football experience that exists, but with them also being young, what will help us compete is strength and conditioning,” Gray said. “We’re really pushing our kids in the weight room and they’ve responded great.”
The Vikings spend four days a week working out, three of those days are weight training and running and one day a week is spent in a 7-on-7 passing competition.
“What’s neat about this team is that we don’t have a superstar,” Gray said. “What we’ve got are kids fighting to be that person we can count on.”
Senior wide receiver and linebacker Steven Mendoza, senior running back and linebacker Corey Richardson and senior quarterback Desmon Gardner are three players in particular who have already emerged as great candidates to be those leaders.
“Mendoza started as a freshman with no clue about football,” Gray said, “but he’s worked himself into a good player.
“Corey is one of the most focused kids on the team and just an incredible athlete and Desmon has made a lot of progress,” he added. “We’re doing some things on the offense end that will fit his style of play more and he’s already looking more comfortable.”
In the offseason, East Hall added two new coaches to the staff offensive line coach Bill Harrison, who was a coach on the Vikings’ staff in the early 90s.
“Bill was around when this program was at its peak and really successful,” Gray said. “He’s really brought an excitement and energy and the kids have fed off of it.”
It is almost a given that with youth comes exuberance, and this year’s Vikings team personifies that idea, despite being pushed to their max running and lifting in the dog days of summer.
“They’ve been excited,” Gray said. “This is the most enjoyable group I’ve coached. There’s no negativity, they’re just so positive and encouraging. They really look out for each other and want the guy next to them to do well.
“And while I don’t know much, I know one thing for sure,” Gray added. “We’re going to come out and fight every game.”