One glance at the All-League football roster is all it takes to realize just how good the Vikings football team was this season.
For nearly a decade, South Tahoe was lucky to see one, maybe two names on the All-League roster. This year, virtually every starter made the cut. Twelve of the 19 players who usually suited up for game day were singled out as the best in league.
Four of those guys - John Cefalu, Kyante Wilson, Cale Backinger and Kyle Moreno - were among the top 20, with Cefalu taking home Offensive Player of the Year. Jason Rogers and Kris DiGrande picked up key second team spots. Honorable mentions went to Brandon Cramer, Dylan Gardner, Kris Hurwitz, Dalton Lathrop, Jared Fajman and MC Cherry. Backinger, Wilson and Rogers all earned a second shout-out as honorable mentions.
"We were always lucky to get one or two guys, so to have this many guys is just a testament to their hard work," head coach Kevin Hennessee said. "Every one of those guys who was mentioned, whether it was honorable mention, or first team All-League, or offensive MVP, every one of those guys put in work above and beyond. They did more than they needed and that's why they were recognized. That's why they were good."
Without enough players for a separate offense and defense, summer workouts at CrossFit were mandatory for survival on the South Tahoe football field. There are no breaks for a South Tahoe football player, and specializing in two positions is a must.
Seniors Wilson and Backinger know this all too well. The two earned All-League recognition for multiple positions.
Wilson was a beast on both sides of the line this season. He was named to first team as wide receiver and earned an honorable mention as safety.
As a wide receiver, Wilson caught 68 to collect more than 1,000 passing yards, record 10 touchdowns and average 107 yards a game.
More impressive, Wilson put up most of those numbers under double coverage.
"If not two people, they would put their best guy on him and he would still make that guy look bad," Hennessee said. "He's athletic, and he goes and gets the ball."
Wilson is about 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, but he catches the ball like he's 6-foot-6. His size coupled with agility make taking him down a monumental effort.
He's equally intimidating on defense.
"If not the best, he's certainly one of the best in Division I and Division I-A," Hennessee said.
Backinger was right there with him. He was selected to All-League first team as a tight end and received honorable mention as linebacker.
"We couldn't have done a lot of things we did without Cale. That's for sure," Hennessee said. "Actually if there hadn't been so many good linebackers in the league he probably would have made second team."
The senior's fiery attitude and refusal to lose this season were contagious. There were plenty of games Backinger could be heard pumping up his team, all the way to the far reaches of the stadium.
And while his field presence was loud, Backinger's numbers screamed even louder.
Backinger caught 617 yards this season, including a 72-yard touchdown pass, and found the end zone seven times for the Vikings.
"We'll see him play Saturday somewhere," Hennessee said. "It's just a matter of where."
Moreno is another South Tahoe kid who could have Saturday football in his future.
The wide receiver was named to second team, but was definitely first team material.
"Anywhere else he could have been a first team receiver with as many catches as he had, but we just weren't going to get two guys," Hennessee said.
Just how many catches did Moreno have? A total of 49 for 722 yards and nine touchdowns. Most of those yards came in the second half of the season too.
It seemed as Moreno found his stride, South Tahoe found a five-game win streak.
On defense, the 5-foot-6 senior consistently brought down some of the biggest guys in the league.
"He truly stepped his game up from last year and showed that he belonged. I couldn't be prouder," Hennessee said.
It was Moreno who stepped up to catch the winning touchdown in a tight 27-17 game against Spring Creek to keep playoff chances alive. Moreno caught two TD passes during the game.
Cramer was another guy who probably would be higher up on the list if he weren't playing on a team so loaded with stellar receivers. Cramer earned honorable mention with his 636 yards and five touchdowns.
In the Vikings' final game, the senior came through at a key moment with a 63-yard touchdown catch against Truckee, state champions.
But perhaps the biggest testament to hard work on the All-League roster was the number of offensive lineman recognized.
The offensive line was something South Tahoe struggled with early in the season so Rogers making second team is no small feat.
"It's big, considering we moved him from receiver/tight end to tackle in the Fallon game," Hennessee said. "He had to work hard, and he took pride in his craft."
Rogers first adjusted then excelled at the new position. Together, with honorable mentions Hurwitz and Lathrop, Rogers turned a weakness into a strength for a team that built its wins on passing.
"We had 3,000 yards passing and without those guys we couldn't have done that," Hennessee said. "It was nice to see those kids get recognized."
It was also nice to see cornerback DiGrande get recognized as second team.
In his first year on the football field, DiGrande seemed to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
"I mean never playing before and being a second team All-League corner that says something about him," Hennesee said. "He probably saved five touchdown passes for us this year."
After a decade of obscurity, the number of South Tahoe kids on the All-League roster is overwhelming. So what's the biggest difference from this year to last?
"For us to be able to play with 19 guys. Honest to God, if we didn't work out at CrossFit we wouldn't have been as successful as we were. There is no question in my mind," Hennessee said. "When you've not had success, you have to find something else, something different that's not just status quo."
Apparently South Tahoe found it.