With a blend of experienced upperclassmen and some talented players coming up the ranks, the football team will look to improve on last season's 3-8 record, but the realigned Western League could present a tougher challenge than in years past.
The Vikings open the season at home against Mt. Carmel on Aug. 31 at 6:30 p.m.
Senior leadership should play a big part both in the locker room and on the field.
"It's a good group of team leaders," said Vikings coach Rey Hernandez. "They're very positive in the way they handle themselves and interact. It's a nice thing to see. I'm very happy with that. It's something that you need."
Carrying much of the load will be a quartet of seniors: running back Kenneth Martey, quarterback David McColl, linebacker William Geary and defensive back Dylan Walsh.
Martey may not see action for another week or so since he's nursing a minor foot injury sustained in practice last week.
"He's our top running back coming back and one of our better football players, so we're just being a little conservative with it," said Hernandez. "We might not even run him in our scrimmage. We'll try to get him ready for that first week. This time of year there's always a few nicks here and there. You're just a little more on the conservative side when that happens."
Martey led the Vikings in rushing yards (815), carries (137), yards per carry (5.95), yards per game (74.1) and touchdowns (5) in 2011.
"We're in good shape at running back," said Hernandez. "I think Kenny is one of the better running backs in the city. Conor Irwin (98 yards on 26 carries as a junior last fall) also is a good running back, and we've got another good one coming up in A.J. Talman (469 yards rushing/6.17 yards per carry for the JV).
With last year's starting quarterback Bobby Schuman now graduated, McColl will take over the signal-calling. He saw limited action last season behind Schuman, completing 6-of-11 passes for 67 yards.
"David's done a really good job," Hernandez noted. "Part of the quarterback position is that leadership you need to get from the kid that's there and he's given us all of that. I think he's really improved in his throwing and all the other things you need to play that position, so I'm really happy right now. And we've got two good kids. Our JV quarterback, Brandon Richmond, is coming up, so I think we're OK at that position. We've got a couple of guys who can catch the ball as well. We've just got to make the offensive line click.
"Defensively, we've got a pretty good group of kids in the secondary. Will Geary is probably our best football player and one of the better players in the league. He could play anywhere for us. He's a very solid linebacker. On the line, we've got a few returners there also."
The two league wins for the Vikings in 2011 came against Serra and Hoover (by forfeit), but those teams aren't in the Western League this time around. Central League champ Kearny enters the five-team Western lineup for 2012.
"Even though we're losing Serra and Hoover, and Kearny is coming in, our league is going to be similar to the way it's been in the past," said Hernandez. "There are a lot of good skill-position players, a lot of speed. The Madison and Point Loma programs have been rolling for a long time. Mission Bay is tough, too. We'll have to see what Kearny brings in. They're coming off a good year. So I think it's a very athletic league, one of those leagues where you're not going to get any soft touches. You better come ready to play every week."
What does Hernandez feel are the strengths for the Vikings as they tackle a tough schedule?
"Probably the team chemistry and our leadership," he said. "We have some good experience at key positions, but we also have a few spots where we have to fill some holes. It's not a big roster, only about 37 kids. Of course, you've got to have a little luck and not lose any key players. When you start having to replace those guys, there might not be anybody there."
For more on the 2012 Vikings, visit their MaxPreps page.