Valley Catholic begins the football season 2-0

TIMES FILE PHOTO - Valley Catholic senior lineman Ian Birrell has been a standout on both sides of the football for the Valiants.

As far as first impressions and fast starts go, Valley Catholic rookie head coach Nick Hegwood couldn’t have asked for much more from the Valiants football team.

Through two games, Valley has looked legitimate, knocking off Douglas 41-28 in its first game on the road and then trouncing Yamhill-Carlton 53-7 on Friday at home. The Valiants (2-0 overall) have passed Hegwood’s eye test and executed well on both sides of the ball, but it’s the rising conviction Hegwood is starting to see among his players that has him most encouraged.

“As we continue winning, you see the confidence building,” said Hegwood. “They’re really buying into what we as coaches are trying to tell them. And really, it doesn’t have to do with myself or the coaching staff, but what the players are doing to have success. They’re doing a heck of a job.”

The swagger Hegwood wanted his players to compete with and carry with them from week-to-week is starting to surface. Hegwood said he and his coaching staff are constantly reminding the Valiants how much they believe in their abilities. But it’s not smoke being blown Valley’s way by their head coach and his assistants. With such a large senior class — many of whom have played three years on the varsity level — Hegwood said that deep down, Valley knew it could thrive, but simply needed to be put in position to do it.

“They’re starting to buy what we’re saying, and when that happens, it makes us look like geniuses on the field, to be honest,” said Hegwood.

Douglas provided Valley with a needed dose of adversity in week one. Going back and forth with the Trojans, the Valiants got their offense clicking late in the second half and battled to a solid win. Senior running back Kevin Eckrosh played outstanding against Douglas, accumulating 180 yards on the ground and 60 yards receiving.

“He’s really stepped up and understood where he needs to be and where his success is going to come from,” said Hegwood.

Senior wide receiver Daniel Hardy, listed at 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, has started to stand out not just in the passing game but at linebacker as well. Senior quarterbacks Aidan Welsh and Alex Tranquill have split time at signal caller. Each has led the team well and made sound decisions through the team’s first two games.

“Both have bought into competing every week and taking the reps in practice,” said Hegwood. “The fact that they’ve both taken the opportunity given to them and led this team is an important thing.”

Sophomore Isaac Flemmer and senior Ian Birrell are key pieces of a quickly improving offensive line that includes Joe Engstrom, Jack McConnell and Ace Calcagno. So far, the five starters have helped pile up 94 points in just two contests, thanks to a summer in the weight room and a renewed focus on technique.

Senior linebacker Colin Haggerty is taking advantage of roaming the middle of Hegwood’s 4-2-5 defense and making big plays and hits all over the field. Hegwood said Valley’s team tackling and pursuit of the football on defense have improved greatly from the first game to the second.

Because the Cowapa League only has six teams, Valley has three non-league games on its schedule, including Friday’s 7 p.m. home game against Madras. The White Buffaloes (0-2) haven’t scored a point this season and are coming off a 63-0 beating by Cottage Grove. However, with the start of Cowapa play just a week away, Hegwood said Valley can’t afford to get caught peeking ahead.

“We’re not at a point where we can look past anyone,” said Hegwood. “We have to finish this game and treat this like it’s the most important game of the season because it is. It’s the next step ... It’s about the little things. As we add more wrinkles as we go on, can we not lose sight of what we’ve already done, but continue to get better each and every week? As long as we stay focused on those little things, everything is going to be ok.”

Hegwood explained he constantly harps on “controlling the controllables.” In football, there are things that play out and are out of Valley’s hands. Yet, by taking care of attitude, effort and preparation, Valley can stay centered on one task and one opposing team at a time.

“We have to take care of what’s in front of us before we can start looking ahead,” said Hegwood. “When you’re winning, you start feeling better and start thinking ‘Hey. There are some bigger things ahead. But, they’re doing a good job of staying focused on this week. That’s all we can control.”

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