Summer hardware: Vikings win 7-on-7 title at Lake Tahoe Football Camp
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — At the Lake Tahoe Football Camp, the South Tahoe football team defended its home turf while picking up some summer hardware. The Vikings won the 7-on-7 championship in the third session of the third-annual camp held at STHS, highlighting their four-day stint June 27-30.
“The competition was really, really high and athletes from all over the state of California were there to compete for that 7-on-7 championship,” said South Tahoe defensive backs coach Tony Sunzeri. “We did really well and exceeded all expectations.”
After round robin play on the first two days of camp, South Tahoe earned the top seed playing against three Northern California schools — Encinal (Alameda), Natomas (Sacramento) and Rio Americano (Sacramento). In the double-elimination tournament Monday, the Vikings got a bye before downing Encinal 24-12 to reach the semifinals — then Mother Nature intervened.
Heavy rains followed the Vikings’ win over the Jets, cancelling the rest of the tournament and allowing South Tahoe to capture the crown. It was the team’s first 7-on-7 competition since last July.
“Now we have some really great hardware to put up in the weight room,” Sunzeri said.
Individually, South Tahoe’s team MVP award went to Dylan Gooding. The junior receiver and cornerback starred in the defensive secondary during camp, finishing as the Vikings’ leader in interceptions — including one on the first play of the team’s win over Encinal on Monday.
“He exceeded expectations with his athletic ability and did anything we asked of him,” Sunzeri said. “He showed a lot of Viking pride and played extremely well.”
Before taking their turn at the camp, the Vikings had the chance to put in extra work in the passing game during its first two sessions. Running new head coach Louis Franklin’s spread, triple-option offense, South Tahoe took positive steps forward in both 7-on-7 and padded scrimmages.
“The athletes that we have picked up the terminology really quickly, picked up the route combinations on defense and showed a lot of heart — for not a lot of guys, they went out there and competed as hard as they could,” Sunzeri said.
Senior Mason Cain and junior Tommy Cefalu split the snaps at quarterback for South Tahoe, with seniors Will Mori, Rob Cage and Zach Shearer serving as the primary targets in the passing game. Senior Quinn Ritter took a majority of the reps at running back.
“They were able to work with coach Franklin and put his philosophies into play for the very first time — and do it very well,” Sunzeri said. “He was seeing his guys in action for the first time, working with his personnel and having to really teach them the basics of his offense before installing anything really extravagant.”
Under defensive coordinator Greg Ritter, South Tahoe’s defense switched between Cover 2 and Cover 3 during 7-on-7 play and got into a rhythm as the camp progressed. Before the last day of competition, the Vikings added a variation of Cover 2 called “Phantom” — and it immediately led to an interception against Encinal.
“Greg came up with a game plan for every team on every night — he really did his homework and everything really worked,” Sunzeri said.
Junior Noah Jackson stood out defensively throughout the camp — and did so even after switching positions. Jackson moved from cornerback to free safety in the last session of camp and Sunzeri said he didn’t miss a beat.
“He did it with a positive attitude, was willing to learn, spent a little bit of extra time in the film room and studied hard,” Sunzeri said. “He contributed for us in a new position he had never played before.”
During full-pads scrimmages, South Tahoe was short of offensive linemen — and an unlikely candidate filled out the line. Senior Michael Valney, a 140-pound receiver/linebacker, played left tackle and managed to hold his own on the inside.
“He volunteered, played offensive line for the first time in his life — and did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage,” Sunzeri said. “It was all heart, energy and love for the sport — he battled in the trenches against big guys from other schools that have been playing on the line a lot longer than he has.”
The third edition of the Lake Tahoe Football Camp was split into three four-day sessions. The first wave of teams included Vikings’ league rival Fallon, Capital Christian (Sacramento, Calif.), Chico (Calif.), Fall River (McArthur, Calif.), Sacred Heart Prep (Atherton, Calif.) and Tokay (Lodi, Calif.) while the second session included California schools East Union (Manteca), Ponderosa (Shingle Springs), San Lorenzo Valley (Felton), Winters, Wood (Vacaville) and Valley Christian (Dublin).
Visiting teams camped throughout the STHS campus during the overnight camp and ate meals at the school’s cafeteria. During the first session, Chico players and coaches got a true — if unwelcomed — taste of Tahoe when bears paid their campsite a visit in the middle of the night.
“There were schools there from all demographics,” Sunzeri said. “The experience that all of these schools received by coming up to the mountains and being able to camp really outshined any wins or losses on the field.”
South Tahoe will return to 7-on-7 competition next Monday, when it hosts Big Valley (Bieber, Calif.). The Vikings’ first day of practice is scheduled for Aug. 5, with its season opener scheduled for Aug. 28 against El Dorado (Placerville, Calif.) at Viking Stadium.
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