Vikings determined to return to school’s glory days
Pop Warner football players on the South Shore grew up dreaming of one day playing for the successful South Tahoe High football program. But a carousel of head coaches and an outdated affiliation with Nevada’s top classification contributed to the demise of the once-proud program.
South Tahoe’s seniors and juniors may want to crank up an old Bruce Springsteen hit, “Glory Days,” instead of ACDC’s “Hell’s Bells” on the Viking Bowl sound system prior to home games this season. This dedicated core is intent on returning South Tahoe to those glory days.
“It will be a good opportunity to get our football program back to where it needs to be and bring respect back from this town,” said STHS senior receiver and defensive back Rigel Garman.
Part of that optimism stems from a Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association decision last spring to move the Vikings’ sports programs from the 4A to the 3A level. South Tahoe will no longer compete with most of Reno and instead will draw new battle lines with rural Nevada: Dayton, Elko and even Lake Tahoe neighbor Truckee, last year’s state champion.
“It’s a really great opportunity for us, and I don’t think it could have come at a better time with our new coach and our senior year,” said two-way starter Andrew Contaxis, a senior. “I’ve felt a lot more connection between players. I feel we’ve become sort of like a family more than we were.”
Two decades ago, the Vikings were the 4A regional champs and a state finalist. Many additional winning seasons followed until the program spiraled through a tough five-year period. During that span the Vikings have compiled a 6-41 record.
Prior to last season, South Tahoe administrators reverted to a proven formula for football success by hiring a football coach who also teaches at the school. Kevin Hennessee brought a spread offensive scheme to the Vikings, and much of the team’s success last season was linked to the offense moving the ball and finding the end zone. Hennessee intends to use the same offensive scheme this season, even though quarterback Thomas Eidam and all-Sierra League tight end Garrett Tinlin have graduated.
“The great thing about the offense is it’s built to highlight what you have, whether it’s a tight end like Garrett or receivers like Andrew and Rigel and a back like Jacob (Stowell),” Hennessee said. “We’re going to be able to spread it in different spots now.”
The Vikings have experienced receivers in Garman and Contaxis, a junior workhorse running back in Stowell and athletic junior quarterback in Tyler Nesbitt. Stowell led the Vikings in rushing as a sophomore and Nesbitt saw time in the backfield while biding time until he could get behind center.
“That’s going to impact everything a lot,” Hennessee said. “They already know what’s going on – the speed of the game and they’ve been in varsity games.”
Hennessee is excited about the coming season as many of his players gave up summer fun to participate in two camps, 7-on-7 passing games and voluntary workouts.
“We worked our tails off this summer. That coupled with all of the other stuff has given us something to be excited about,” Hennessee said.
Nesbitt’s learning curve has been hastened by the number of snaps he’s taken during the spring and summer and the game situations he’s been in from the 7-on-7 contests.
“He gets a feel of pace and what it’s going to take to be a quarterback,” Hennessee said. “We’re going to have some growing pains with him, but he’s making a commitment and doing all the stuff we’re asking him to do.”
Many players assumed double field duty last year and that could have contributed to the Vikings’ inconsistency in protecting their end zone.
“We worked hard on our defense this summer,” Hennessee said. “I think the camps helped us and the kids playing in it last year … put those two together, and I think we’re gonna be in a better place.”
Senior defensive lineman Wade Norberg and senior linebacker Elliott Amsden along with secondary members Garman and Contaxis give Hennessee reason for encouragement.
“Right now we just need to know what we’re doing,” Norberg said. “We’re still learning what we’re going to do. Once we get that down we should be good.”
Contaxis said it’s reassuring knowing that the disadvantages the Vikings experienced in the 4A shouldn’t follow them to the 3A.
“It’s easier knowing that (3A teams) have about the same numbers as us, so they don’t have fresh legs every five minutes,” Contaxis said.
South Tahoe has lost to the 3A’s Dayton, Fallon (former 4A member) and Sparks in recent years, so a more enrollment friendly league doesn’t automatically translate to success.
“There’s not going to be any breathers, that’s for sure,” Hennessee said. “Every week is going to be a tough time. Our experience with the 3A schools, we know that they are going to be hard.”
But the Vikings are banking on their hard work in the offseason paying off.
“I can’t remember the last time South Tahoe made the playoffs, and now we have a really great opportunity to make it,” Stowell said.
South Tahoe High football
Coach: Kevin Hennessee, second year
Last year: 1-8 record
Key returners: Rigel Garman, Andrew Contaxis, Tyler Nesbitt, Wade Norberg, Jacob Stowell, Elliott Amsden, Brandon Bannar
Opener: Aug. 28 vs. Portola in Viking Bowl
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Fueled in part by Tampa Bay’s surprise victory in the Super Bowl, Nevada sports books recorded their fourth-highest win of all time in January.