Make no mistake, the 2019 Mazama football team has yet to accomplish a thing.
While the Viking program has won five Skyline Conference championships in a row, a new season brings on new challenges. Previous program accomplishments are to remain in the past.
“This is not a team that’s won five league titles in a row,” said head coach Vic Lease. “This is a team that hasn’t won anything yet. We like to believe that we have things in place, our fundamentals and how we develop our young men will keep that success going. But this team hasn’t won anything. We’ve let them know that.
“Once they start thinking about league titles then that’s where the work will start lacking because they will think of that rather than what’s in front of them.”
The quest officially started Monday for Mazama with sights on a sixth-straight Skyline Conference title and another deep run in the playoffs, as has been the norm in recent years.
“We ask them what their legacy is going to be,” Lease said. “‘Are you going to keep the tradition going? Because it takes work. Those teams that came before, worked.”
The 2019 senior class has only seen success from the varsity program since stepping foot on the Mazama campus. That first year, when they were freshman, their freshman squad didn’t live up to the program’s standards.
“We won five games and lost six,” said senior fullback Cooper Hamilton, who is tasked with replacing the former Skyline Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Chris Zakour. “Worst freshman year in a long time. It was a bad year for sure.”
That losing season flipped a switch for many of the players who came back as sophomores and delivered an undefeated JV campaign and made up a chunk of last season’s quarterfinal team.
“Our work ethic changed,” said senior Nate Beck, the reigning first-team all-conference quarterback. “We all realized that we don’t want to lose games so we all started working hard at it, getting bigger in the weight room, faster. Everyone has really gotten better.”
As play has steadily improved, so have the team’s aspirations.
“I think that this will be one of the winningest years we’ve had,” Hamilton said. “Our final goal is definitely winning the ‘ship’ (state championship).”
Lofty goals, sure, but the players wearing the white and blue winged helmets, might have the horses to make that goal a reality. Lease, entering his sixth season leading the Vikings, called this year’s squad the most athletic team with the best defense since he took over the program in 2014.
Six 2018 all-conference defensive players return to the Viking defense. Ben Hoegee was a second-team linebacker who Hamilton says has all-state potential. Isaac Hagerty, Cadence Baltz, Hamilton and Tristan Lee were all honorable mention selections a year ago.
With the team improving its athleticism, the offense will look a little different than in previous years, spreading out to a flexbone offense to take advance of two senior wideouts in Cole Brosterhous and Lee — both stand at 6-foot-2.
“Both those kids can go up and get the ball,” Lease said. “We saw a little bit of that last year, they are going to be a mainstay for us being able to stretch teams vertically and attack them with the pass down the field, something we haven’t really done but we are going to focus on this year to balance out a little bit.”
The team’s overall athleticism will be important moving forward. While this year’s team might be the most athletic, it’s also the smallest in the trenches. For a team that wants to throw the ball more in 2019, a more nimble offensive line can help with that.
“We get to the second levels faster,” Lease said. “Our read-option stuff is a lot more misdirection with play action and getting vertical. Pass Pro is something that we haven’t worked on a lot, we are a drive-blocking team, with these athletic linemen, they can definitely do that.”
In 10 days, the Vikings will travel to Redmond for their tune-up jamboree against Class 6A and 5A competition before hosting Ontario on Friday, Sept. 6 for the season opener.
“We are looking forward to that,” Lease said. “The physical difference between the classifications is significant when you go against 5A and 6A schools and we need that. We need that type of competition.”