Football preview: Vikings ready to take the next step

By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Montgomery coach Marcelo Bautista, right, goes over a tackling drill with his players during practice on Monday (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Montgomery coach Marcelo Bautista, right, goes over a tackling drill with his players during practice on Monday (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Buoyed by a breakthrough campaign and preparing for prominent roles this season, a dozen Montgomery football players ran their own workouts on warm summer weekends.

Going beyond team weight training and conditioning, these returning varsity players set a tone teammates have matched in fall practices.

“We want to do better than we did last year and we set a high standard last year,” running back and defensive back Ke’Shawn Walker said.

With only a handful of returning starters and a particularly young defense, Montgomery will be challenged to match last season’s effort, which ended in the North Coast Section Division 2 semifinals.

“We have a lot of new people who are jumping right in. They’re good,” said Justin Aarhus, a defensive anchor.

Montgomery will be tested from week one. The season opens with always-strong Napa, followed by a visit to Dublin before the Vikings’ home opener with Empire perennial-power Analy. Then follows the North Bay League grind.

A deep, skilled offense promises to match last season’s scoring output.

Confidence will be critical on defense. Montgomery is fast, athletic — and lacking experience.

“We’re filling some holes. We’ve been improving throughout the summer and have been doing things right in practice,” coach Marcelo Bautista said. “We’re excited.”

A reason for optimism begins with returning quarterback RJ Flores. Replacing injured Elijah Higgs in last season’s fourth game, Flores helped spark a section-playoff run with an accurate arm and by limiting turnovers.

Flores has a new corps of primary receivers, but they are a deep group. Walker should be a pass-catching threat with a pair of talents up from junior varsity at wide receiver in Marcus Johnson and Malik Telcy. Aarhus also is in the mix.

Moving the ball through the air is important to Montgomery with the graduation of workhorse All-Empire running back Logan Francavilla. Walker, a shifty runner, and Shawn Byrd, more of a pounder, will work to keep defenses from focusing on grounding the Vikings passing.

A larger playbook is aimed at making Montgomery more balanced on offense and harder to stop with the ball.

The coaching staff has challenged the team to improve fundamentally while also taking on a steep learning curve.

A four-day team camp at the Hanna Boys Center helped accelerate team building. Three practices daily pushed players with rest for meals and cooling swims.

“Just to get the extra work in, we got to know all the plays better. We kind of got a jump start at camp,” Walker said.

Dialing in the defense is paramount to Montgomery’s success. Returning to their stifling best a year ago, Montgomery is coaching up a young squad to keep the Vikings close in contests this season.

Anchoring play on both sides of the ball is Dakota Row, a strong, athletic lineman. Leading the linebackers is returner Byrd with Charles Stone and Nicholas Bautista.

A deep defensive backfield features Walker, Aarhus and Michael Woldleslassie.

With a handful of players going on both offense and defense, Montgomery needs to stay healthy to put together another winning campaign.

The importance of last season’s success following several down years for the Vikings program was clear to seniors including Aarhus, now in his third year on varsity.

“Last year was huge. We put Montgomery back on the map,” Aarhus said. “We have high goals to go as far as we can this year.”

You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or mike.coit@pressdemocrat.com.

MONTGOMERY VIKINGS

Coach: Marcelo Bautista (1st year)
2013 record: 10-3 overall, 5-2 NBL (2nd place)
2013 JV Record: 8-2

PLAYERS TO WATCH
RJ Flores, Sr., QB — Took over starting spot fourth game last season and helped spark section playoff run with heady play and strong arm. Threw 16 touchdowns against only 5 interceptions, earning All-NBL honors.
Ke’Shawn Walker, Sr., RB/DB — Very athletic and tough to track down, averaged nearly 6 yards a carry a year ago and also was a primary kick returner to make All-NBL. Will be counted on for defense as two-way starter.
Justin Aarhus, Sr., WR/DB — Third year varsity player provides leadership for young defensive unit. Expected to play more at receiver as Vikings seek to bolster passing game.
Dakota Row, Sr., OL/DL — Big, strong and athletic, Row anchors the line play on both sides of the ball. Looks to stay healthy.

GAME NOT TO MISS
Montgomery hosts Analy for the Vikings’ home opener on Sept. 19. The Tigers venture into the Vikings Valhalla in a bid to bolster both Empire bragging rights and section playoff credentials. Both squads like to throw the ball, but are also known for strong defenses. Montgomery and Analy last met in 2003 when the Tigers prevailed in a first round section playoff contest.

ALL-TIME HIGHLIGHT
Boasting a rugged, physical defense, Montgomery reached the 2009 NCS Division 2 title game—the Vikings’ deepest playoff run to date since winning a 2004 section crown. Montgomery suffocated Casa Grande in the 2009 semifinals, winning their tenth straight only to fall against juggernaut Eureka for the championship.

SCHEDULE
Aug. 30 – at Napa, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 5 – BYE
Sept. 12 – at Dublin, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 19 – Analy, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 26 – Maria Carrillo, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 3 – at Rancho Cotate, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 10 – Windsor, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 17 – at Ukiah, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 24 – at Santa Rosa, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 31 – Cardinal Newman, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 7 – Casa Grande, 7:30 p.m.