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Transition over, Vikings look for big strides on gridiron

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and Jason Winchell

At St. Elizabeth, coach Joe Aviola has been working with his troops to improve on last season’s 3-7 record. It was a transition season for the Vikings, who had a new head coach for the first time since the Nixon administration.

Among the good news is that the size of the roster has increased from 29 last year to 45. Twenty-one of those players, however, are freshmen, so Aviola and his staff will have to go to battle inexperienced in several positions. The coach spent the summer looking at the positive aspects of this.

Chris Cropper is one backfield weapon for the Vikings. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)
Chris Cropper is one backfield weapon for the Vikings. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

“At St. Elizabeth, we offer a kid the opportunity to get on the field at a much earlier time in their high school career than if they were in a larger school,” he said.

Junior David Hazleton, who will move back to tight end this year after spending his sophomore season on the offensive line, said the upperclassmen have spent the summer trying to make the newcomers feel welcome, eating lunch with them and helping them learn the playbook. Hazleton said there is more cohesion among the players in Aviola’s second year.

“We definitely have much more put together this year coming into the season. We’re able to kind of jump start where we were last year,” he said.

“It’s been much more intense. Compared to last year, I feel that people want to be here more. We had a lot of buy in, especially from the freshmen, which is great to see.”

Aviola said the increased interest in Vikings football is proof that the word about his program, particularly his staff, has gotten out. A few of his assistants are not much older than the players, so they can relate to their young charges.

StE.FB1.WEB“They’re younger, and they bring that modernization in the spread offense that we run. I think that is what we offer with our new system here,” Aviola said.

Sophomore Casey Rock will take many of the snaps at quarterback. He will be handing off to a pair of talented runners, sophomore Chris Cropper and junior Matthew Wambold.

The Vikings open an ambitious schedule on Sept. 11 at McKean. Their home opener is the next week against 2014 Division II finalist Laurel, and they also play Friends, St. Mark’s and Archmere. Aviola said he expects marked improvement from last season.

“Last year was a year of transition. They don’t know us, we don’t know them,” he said. “But there are no more excuses. Our skill level is pretty decent for Division II.”

Making the postseason is always the goal, Hazleton added, but a big target for the Vikings is “being able to compete in every single game. I think we’ll be able to do that.”

 

Schedule (home games at Baynard Stadium)

Friday, Sept. 11: at McKean, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 19: Laurel, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 26: vs. Conrad, 4 p.m., at Delaware Stadium

Friday, Oct. 2: Delaware Military, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 10: at Wilmington Friends, 2 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 16: at Dickinson, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 24: at A.I. DuPont, 7 p.m.

Friday, Oct. 30: Red Lion, 7 p.m. (Homecoming)

Friday, Nov. 6: St. Mark’s, 7 p.m.

Saturday, Nov. 14: at Archmere, noon