A variety of authorities, ranging from league opponents to Santa Monica High’s competitors in passing league games this summer, expect the Vikings to be an outstanding football team this season.
It’s a matter of talent, but also experience, with many key players returning. Also, a coach in his third season who has built the program since going winless in his first year. And depth.
Often when competitors praise a team, the coach will be cautious in his approach, pointing out possible pratfalls. But not this time. Samohi’s Michael Burnett is as enthusiastic about the team’s chances as anyone else.
“We’re very excited,’’ said Burnett. “We showed considerable improvement last season and want to keep the pattern going. For our summer activity we had a turnout of at least 50 every time. With varsity and junior varsity players, we have more than 100, so many that we may not have equipment for everyone.
“Kids like to win. We’ve had some success and they want to be part of it.’’
Samohi went from 0-9-1 to 6-5 in Burnett’s second season. Samohi was in contention for the Ocean League championship, and, even after losing a deciding game to Hawthorne, the Vikings qualified for the CIF playoffs.
The goal this season is to do better – win the league title and advance in the playoffs.
This appears to be Samohi’s best team since 1991, when the squad coached by Norm Lacy won the CIF Division 10 championship. Since then the Vikings have played in Division 4.
Samohi will open at home (Corsair Field) Sept. 9 against West Torrance.
Burnett has made his first major decision on the 2005 team by naming sophomore Ryan Katz as quarterback and moving junior Cameron Collins to wide receiver. The two youngsters began the summer competing for the quarterback job following the graduation of Kevin Poindexter, who ably guided the team last season.
“They’re both quality players and I didn’t want one of them standing on the sidelines,’’ said Burnett. “Cameron is 6-foot-3 and catches the ball well. He’s been positive about the transition.
“That’s the plan for now, but if it becomes necessary for Cameron to play quarterback he can easily move back.’’
Samohi has four talented running backs, all with experience, and Burnett has been searching for ways to give them all playing time. The solution is that a couple will play defense.
The situation came about because of injuries last season. Players missed games and their replacements excelled. None were seniors.
The one emerging from the pack is junior Lewis Adeyemi. According to Burnett, Adeyemi has been the hardest worker of the group.
Michael Henley, a second team all-league choice last season, will help at linebacker, and Adeyemi will play outside linebacker too.
The other running backs are league sprint champion Daniel Locke and sophomore E.J. Woods.
Locke was tried as a receiver in the summer and will occasionally be on the field along with another running back. Woods, brought up to the varsity late last season as an emergency replacement, gained 190 yards in a win over Beverly Hills.
Imagine that,’’ said a rival coach. “The league sprint champion is third string.’’
Burnett also praises Robert Garcia, the fullback who is often the lead blocker. Garcia made 100 tackles at middle linebacker last season and will be a key figure on defense and offense.
The receiving corps is solid, led by Christoff Neuman, a 6-foot-4 tight end who is being recruited by several Pac-10 schools.
“He’s probably the heaviest recruited player we have,’’ said Burnett. “He’s talented and he has a 3.7 grade point average.’’
Collins and Geo Allen are other primary receivers, providing speed on the outside.
The question mark on offense is the line because all five starters were seniors.
“I like the ability of the new guys but they don’t have varsity experience,’’ said Burnett.
The group includes Justin Williams, who has come up from the junior varsity and will be the center.
Several offensive stars will also play defense. In addition, cornerback Keith Kilgore figures prominently, as does defensive tackle Damon Middleton. Both were on the junior varsity last season.
Middleton is 6-foot-3, 250 and described by Burnett as “a force.’’
Replacements must be found for the Flores twins, Albert and Henry, who were important players last season as seniors.
Place-kicker Jordan Rosenback has a strong leg and a year of experience following an impressive 2004 debut.
Burnett is proud of the fact the roster is loaded with players who have come up from Santa Monica youth programs and Samohi lower level teams.
“I’m starting my third year and we haven’t had one transfer,’’ said Burnett. “We’ve lost a few but none have come in.’’
Burnett arrived at Samohi from Virginia four years ago and wasn’t here when Viking teams carved out a significant niche in the past. However, Burnett has become familiar with the school’s glory years and wants fans to remember them.
“We had an alumni dinner in the summer and we’re going to invite past players to attend games and be on the sidelines,’’ he said.
Burnett says the array of talent has tested his ability to make decisions, most notably at running back.“I’ll take that problem every year,’’ he said.