Usually, I write these blogs in somewhat of a chronological order, but today let’s start at the end.
I sat for a few minutes with new Valhalla’s Kevin Martins, a first-year coach who graduated from Sacred Heart in 2000 and went on to play for Division III Averett University in Danville, Va. Martins, as you know, took over this season for Frank Nucaro. He served as an assistant for five seasons at Roosevelt and one at Iona Prep and spent the last two at Vahalla.
Anyway, toward the end of my visit with Martins, I asked if his team had reached the status of a “normal” program. Remember: The Vikings won Section 1’s developmental league last year, and now, in the first year under the 28-year-old Martins, they are back playing a full Class C schedule.
“Not quite, but I think we’re on our way to that,” Martins said. “We still have to learn how to practice better and how to work hard on every drill. But we’re getting to the point where we’re normal again.”
The evidence was everywhere — and that’s not just a matter of speech. When Martins became an assistant coach at Valhalla in 2008, the program had 17 players. Last year it returned just 13, but active recruitment throughout the school swelled that number to a very respectable 32. But now the number has risen even more. There were 38 players scattered around the turf today, a number that should put the Vikings in solid position going forward.
Their short-term goal is modest, but the long-term quest is simple: continue to improve and watch the program grow.
“At this point, we just want to be competitive,” Martins said. “We just want to play hard for four quarters in every game. And we want to watch our numbers grow.”
There was a point where Valhalla won a Class D state title, back in 1996. Part of what will help this team is another group of champions. Martins’ roster includes four key players from the baseball team that won the Class C state title.
That group is lead by John Meaney, a FB/LB. Meaney is a three-year starter who will earn the bulk of the carries on offense and who Martins believes is one of the top linebackers in Class C. He will be joined by QB/FS Mark Demilio, another three-year starter, and WR/DE Joe Portsmouth. All three were key players on the baseball team last spring.
Several key returners, non-baseball team division, who helped Valhalla to an 8-1 season are back. Seniors T/DE Dennis Cloke, G/LB Andrew Yoon and G/DT Derrick Hanley and sophomore T/DT Kristian Espinal will anchor the offensive and defensive fronts. Cloke is probably the team’s top offensive lineman while Espinal developed into a formed in the middle of the defense last year as a freshman.
Two more members of the baseball team joined the Vikings for the football season: Tom Longo and Jason Dillon. Longo, a WR/CB, is expected to contribute right away. So are three freshmen: RB/CB Miro Ronac, WR/LB Paul Viviano and FB/LB Adrian Villafuerte.
They will all face a challenge immediately: Sept. 11 at Bronxville. But with so many teams in the developmental league now, Valhalla will probably face a challenge every week. Class C will be extremely competitive.
That’s all on Valhalla. I’ll have a few thoughts on Westlake in a little while. But before I go, listen to this: Martins scheduled his team to go on a 2.5-mile run through Valhalla tomorrow with the field hockey team, which apparently has experience on the run. He joked with players who dragged late in practice yesterday about the competition that awaits them tomorrow. They laughed, but there were definitely a few nervous faces mixed in there.