The trials and tribulations of last season’s Valley Vista High School football team would have made good fodder for a country song — if it weren’t for bad luck, the Monsoon would have had none at all.
“It seemed like we were in every game and then we would be hit by the snowball effect,” said Jason Wilke, Valley Vista coach. “When bad plays happened, they compounded and led to easy scores by the opposition.”
No game illustrated Wilke’s assessment like the Monsoon’s October loss to Boulder Creek.
At one point in the second half, Valley Vista led its Northwest Region rival 32-27. However, Boulder Creek capitalized on a fumble and two botched kickoff returns to score 29 unanswered points in a seven-minute span en route to a 56-32 victory.
“We didn’t respond well to adversity and that’s been the motivation for our team in the offseason,” Wilke said.
“Not giving up — that’s been a theme.”
Valley Vista will try to rebound from last season’s 4-6 campaign with new starters in quarterback Diante Richardson and running back Ronald Carter.
Richardson threw eight passes, including two touchdowns, in limited duty last season.
“Diante is not as much of a pocket passer as (last year’s starter) Brock Bailey,” Wilke said. “We will use more sprint outs with Diante as quarterback.”
Carter has the unenviable task of replacing Charles James, who accounted for 24 touchdowns and rushed for 1,799 yards last season.
Carter moved to strong safety last year as he waited for his opportunity at running back.
“Ronald comes from a football family and he started as a running back on our freshmen team,” Wilke said. “He doesn’t have the speed of a Charles James, but’s he’s real hungry for success.”
The offensive line will be anchored by returnees Denver Bower and Carson Lengvary.
Nathaniel Chambers is the top returnee at receiver.
The 5-foot-7 senior made every reception count last season, turning three catches into three touchdowns.
Valley Vista averaged more than 31 points a game last season, the best scoring average in the eight-team region.
However, the Monsoon permitted even more points on defense, letting the opposition score at a rate of more than 34 points a game, the worst mark in the region.
Wilke addressed the defensive situation with Josh Sekoch, the new defensive coordinator, who worked previously as the head coach at Shadow Mountain.
“Josh has a lot of experience as a player and coach,” Wilke said. “We’re excited what he brings to the team.
Valley Vista will still use a 3-5 stack formation on defense, anchored by Mark Grant, a region first-team selection last year as a defensive lineman.
Grant had 83 tackles and recorded a team-high three sacks last year.
“We are expecting big things from Mark this year,” Wilke said. “We plan to move him around on the line of scrimmage to put him in the best pass-rushing situations.”
Wilke said the Monsoon also will be improved by the move of junior Brandon Bendele from the defensive line to linebacker.
The team’s biggest defensive question mark will be the secondary, which will feature two sophomores starters in Myles Spearman and Jacob Bukowiecki.
Another sophomore, Delvin Richardson, Diante’s brother, will start at linebacker.
“Experience-wise, we lost four defensive backs from last year’s team who were two-year starters,” Wilke said.
“We like the athletic ability of the guys we have back there.”
Wilke is still waiting for a breakthrough season at the Surprise school, which enters its fourth season of varsity competition.
Wilke turned a moribund Glendale High School program into a playoff team before taking the Valley Vista job before the 2007 season.
After a winless campaign in his first year at Valley Vista, the Michigan native has led the Monsoon to back-to-back four-win seasons.
“We had bigger aspirations than 4-6 last season,” Wilke said. “I don’t think conditioning had anything to do with our problems last year, but we’ve put an emphasis on it in workouts.
“We want to cover all our bases and get a little bit of luck.”