STE. GENEVIEVE – The football seasons have become slightly shorter for Valle Catholic since making the compulsory leap to Class 3 status three years ago.
But the lack of a deep playoff run after taking home the Class 1 state championship in 2019 should not be mistaken for a decline in quality on the field.
Despite joining a tougher conference and seeking stronger competition outside of the MAFC White Division, the Warriors still have not lost in the regular season under the new designation.
Continuing that trend this fall could be a challenge, as several key positions require new starters. Four members of the Class 3 all-state First Team have bid farewell.
But Valle Catholic has faced and overcome similar circumstances numerous times over a stretch of 15 consecutive seasons with no fewer than nine victories.
“I think our kids always have something to prove to themselves, the fans and the teams who came before them,” 20th-year head coach Judd Naeger said. “This group has been compared to those from past years, and wants to make its own name.”
Last season concluded in frustrating fashion with a hard-fought loss to Central after the Warriors had beaten the Rebels six weeks earlier behind a fourth-quarter surge.
The path to an eventual 10-1 record included plenty of bumps and bruises against opponents whose actual enrollment sizes multiply the Warriors several times over.
The schedule is unchanged this year, except for host sites, and Valle Catholic is bracing for Class 6 foe Seckman in the opener. Festus and Vianney are likely to present Class 5 obstacles.
“It’s a physical grind,” Naeger said. “We’re generally going against folks that have more kids and are larger than us from a physique standpoint as well. Our kids are working hard to do their best with fundamentals all the time. That’s one of the tools you have to negate those disadvantages.”
The Warriors will have an opportunity for revenge against the Rebels in week 6 – this time in Park Hills – before meeting longtime rival Ste. Genevieve the following Friday.
Although those contests carry added intrigue, Valle Catholic has shown a propensity for overlooking nobody. That principle has guided the iconic school to six state titles since 2010.
“It a cornerstone of our program. We try to treat every opponent and every day on the field the same, whether it’s the second day of practice or the Thursday before a district championship game,” Naeger said. “We expect a lot out of each other, and certainly this group has had an outstanding attitude and effort up to this point.”
Senior Grant Fallert is aiming to repeat history in a sense this season by taking over at quarterback for cousin and three-year all-state starter Chase Fallert.
Grant shined without practice as a back-up in 2021 when Chase suffered a serious concussion at St. Dominic, and went on to start the next nine games behind center.
Breakaway speed makes Grant Fallert a threat whenever he keeps the ball. He is also surrounded by a fast crew of receivers who had somewhat limited roles in the rotation last fall.
Rylan Fallert may earn a majority of targets at the outset, but track standout Wil Kuehn and all-state kickoff specialist Isaac Basler will also look to break open.
“He’s one of probably five kids last year where it would have been nice to get him the ball more often,” Naeger stated regarding Rylan Fallert. “I think our first string offense averaged between 22-28 plays per game. There just were not a whole lot of touches to go around.”
An early storyline will be the vacancy left by star running back Bryce Giesler, who piled up 1,166 yards for an average of 11.7 per carry and totaled 25 touchdowns.
Alex Viox gained about 150 rushing yards against Kennett last season when Giesler was injured. Josh Fallert stood out for the junior varsity, and Andre Oberle has some varsity experience.
Valle Catholic will face several changes along the offensive line. Returning senior Jacob Elbert becomes a prominent force after working alongside brother and four-year starter Noah Elbert.
The defensive front four includes defensive ends Cohen Gibbs and Isaac Viox, who moves over from the interior after powerful pass rusher Tim Okenfuss graduated with 12 ½ sacks.
The Warriors are collectively bigger and faster at linebacker despite some changes. Alex Viox keeps his outside spot while Josh Fallert and Oberle work from the middle.
Valle Catholic is known for holding a majority of opponents to negative rushing yardage. Many imminent foes will challenge the secondary and stretch the field with elite receivers.
“We’ll have to do a better job of keeping guys in front of us. We did some good things against them at times, while other times, we may have had our eyes in the wrong places,” Naeger said. “A lot of teams on our schedule will have some outstanding weapons on the outside. We’ll have to be smart and fast on the back end. Hopefully, our speed up front can force the ball out quickly.”
The special teams have proven assets. Kuehn has been kicking extra points since his freshman season, and Basler pounded 77 of 94 kickoffs into the end zone last year.
The addition of 23 incoming freshmen, with 54 players comprising the full roster, further illustrates the ongoing push within the Valle community to bolster its winning tradition.
“We have a group that really encourages kids to play. If someone is thinking about not playing, there are former players, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, who reach out to them,” Naeger said. “I think our kids feel like they are playing for more than just the current team.”
Aug. 25 – at Seckman
Sept. 1 – Festus
Sept. 8 – Fredericktown*
Sept. 15 – Potosi*
Sept. 22 – at St. Vincent
Sept. 29 – at Central*
Oct. 6 – at Ste. Genevieve*
Oct. 13 – at Vianney
Oct. 20 – Kennett