STE. GENEVIEVE – The second half may be viewed by some as a simple formality during typical football games once Valle Catholic builds a comfortable lead.
But the opportunity to feature a multitude of second-string talent against opponents’ starting units last season should now reveal its full value for the decorated Class 1 power.
Many of those players are now filling graduation vacancies after the Warriors marched to another Show Me Bowl and a second-place finish while going 12-2 overall.
Valle Catholic is adjusting to a smaller lineup this season – especially near the line of scrimmage – but hopes to counter the size differential with physical play and an abundance of team speed.
“Over the years, one of the hallmarks of Valle football has been the ability to win with some undersized linemen up front, as long as they play fast and with a lot of knowledge and heart,” said 15th-year head coach Judd Naeger, who has guided the heralded program to five of its 14 state titles since winning one as a player. “That’s what we’re expecting out of them again this year.”
The pure athleticism and 6-foot-3 stature of Ryan Grein and Tyler Blum easily provide Valle the most productive receiving tandem in Class 1, along with a dangerous presence in the secondary.
While both current seniors have already attained all-state honors in football, their impact is felt across other sports. Grein was a four-time state track medalist last May, and Blum helped lead the Warriors to their fifth state baseball crown less than three weeks later as a shortstop.
Owen Viox is another receiver who can be inserted at safety or cornerback, further tilting the balance of varsity experience toward the back portion of the defense.
Senior Carter Roth flanks junior inside linebacker Collin Grass in the second level. They also ranked first and second on last year’s team, respectively, in number of carries by running backs.
The Warriors, who narrowly fell to Monroe City 12-7 at Faurot Field, held 10 of 14 opponents to two scores or less, including back-to-back shutouts against Herculaneum and St. Pius.
“Last year, all of our returners on defense were up front, but now, we’ve kind of flipped that scenario,” Naeger said. “From a pass rush perspective, I still think we’ll be in good shape.
“Our success may come down to how well we develop our defensive line for stopping the run. With our speed on the back end, we should have a good chance to slow down teams that want to throw the ball.”
Carter Roth scored the lone Valle Catholic touchdown in Columbia – although another was potentially missed by officials in the fourth quarter – and offers yet another all-state option within the offense.
He may line up all over the formation since Kellen Blum and C.J. Stoll are available to bolster backfield depth along with Grass.
Chase Dunlap takes over the quarterback duties from two-year starter Mason Skaggs, who passed for more than 2,900 yards in 12 games.
When Skaggs was banged up during a quarterfinal game at Thayer, Dunlap stepped in after halftime to help punctuate a 33-10 triumph in hostile territory.
“The receivers that we have give Chase some easier options on some certain plays, and he’s beginning to understand where he has an outlet to find one of those guys on the outside. We can still develop a good play with a short throw,” Naeger said. “It’s up to the coaching stuff to put him in good situations that [emphasize his strengths].”
Valle Catholic has enacted a fast offense without huddling for a while, but might consider using more of the play clock to shorten games if offensive line depth becomes thin.
The lone returner within that starting group is Kyle Roth, who moves from guard to center after playing alongside three all-state linemen as a sophomore.
“When you have someone that solid in the middle, he becomes a natural choice to build around,” said Naeger, who may surround Roth with at least one or two newcomers to the program.
Jacob Oliver and Cody Basler have locked up the first-string tackle positions in practice. Zach Wolk will also start while Collin Parmer and Peyton Tucker compete for the opposite guard spot.
Those players also inherit a gaping defensive void, as the Warriors benefited from more than 20 sacks by its edge rushers alone.
Tyler Blum and Kellen Blum join Carter Roth and Grass within a superb crew of linebackers. Brendan Meyer powered that unit with 134 tackles last season.
Moving Tyler Blum forward creates an opportunity at free safety for Bryce Palmer, Trenton Linderer or Jayden Gegg to gain significant snaps.
The Valle kicking game should remain in good shape for the long term after Kolten Naeger excelled on extra points last fall as a freshman.
The two-year experiment of challenging reigning seven-time Class 2 state champion Lamar has passed, resulting in a less formidable non-conference schedule.
But cross-town rival Ste. Genevieve figures to be much improved along with several teams within the I-55 Conference, most notably Jefferson.
No matter how the season transpires from week to week, the Warriors seem to handle any result with their expected calm and focused demeanor.
While they appear firmly entrenched among the leading state contenders, Naeger likes to emphasize appreciating the hard work and camaraderie that bring a team to that level.
“We take a lot of pride in that,” Naeger said. “Our players understand that the game is what occurs after the important stuff takes place; how you work throughout the week; how you treat your teammates and everyone around you. Losing is always hard, but it’s easier to take when you know that you did everything possible to give yourself a chance.”
Head Coach – Judd Naeger (15th year)
2017 Record – 12-2 (5-0)
Key Returning Players:
Ryan Grein, sr., WR/CB; Tyler Blum, sr., WR/CB; Carter Roth, sr., RB/LB; Collin Grass, jr., RB/LB; Kyle Roth, jr., C/DT; Kellen Blum, RB/LB
Aug. 24 – St. Vincent
Aug. 31 – Ste. Genevieve
Sept. 7 – at Caruthersville
Sept. 14 – at Crystal City
Sept. 21 – Grandview
Sept. 28 – at Jefferson
Oct. 5 – Bayless
Oct. 12 – Herculaneum
Oct. 19 – at St. Pius
Matt King is the sports editor for the Daily Journal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org