PLEASANT GROVE Ever since Pleasant Grove shocked the highly-favored Jordan Beetdiggers in the 2005 football playoffs, things just haven't been the same for the Vikings.
After struggling for their first two seasons at the 5A level, supporters now expect the Vikings to win. The coaches and Vikings players themselves also expect to win. And ever since that stunning game in November 2005, the Vikings have been winning. They've won at least a share of two region titles since and have been to the postseason now for three straight seasons.
With the talent they have returning this season, it should be four straight come November. In fact, they could throw another league title in there as well. The Vikings have proven that winning can be contagious.
"These kids know the expectations are high and they have the desire to meet that challenge," coach Dale Sampson said. "But it's going to come down to how we perform in the tough situations, just like it does every year."
Actually, the Vikings' strongest class is its junior group which won Utah Valley's freshman league two years ago. But the Vikings played so many sophomores and juniors last season that they really have a double group of experienced players suiting up this season.
"We've got some kids who got a lot of playing time on a really good football team last year, and we're planning on building on that experience and being a little better this season," Sampson said.
The past two years the Vikings have been the masters of the close-game win. The reason for that is simple. The bread and butter of Pleasant Grove's success has been an aggressive and tough defense. Teams just don't move the ball well on the Vikings. With a good host of returners on defense, expect the same during this campaign.
"If you can be strong defensively, you're going to be a good football team and win a good share of your ballgames," Sampson said.
If there's any category where the Vikings are a little questionable it's their offense where they'll have a new quarterback and an unproven passing game. Their running game, however, should be a strong point with the quick and elusive all-purpose back LeSean Wilcox ready for his senior campaign.
"We're going to have to find ways to get him the football in the open field, because he's one of those players who really knows what to do with it once he's got it and we're going to let him do some things with it," Sampson said.
Another strong area for Pleasant Grove is its kicking game. Vikings soccer player Josue Meza proved to be one of the league's most-accurate extra-point and field-goal kickers last season. He's even more prepared this time around. In what is expected to be a very close and even league, that Vikings know that every point is going to be critical.
Pleasant Grove Vikings 2008 prep football preview
COACH: It took Dale Sampson three seasons to produce a winning team, but in his fifth season he's now developed a consistently winning squad. Sampson, a former Snow College and Southern Utah star, got plenty of coaching experience prior to getting the head job in 2004 thanks to his 19 years as a Vikings assistant.
KEY PLAYERS: The Vikings will have a new quarterback this season, and right now it's a battle between Dallas Lloyd and Dalton Brady. Whoever doesn't earn the team-general spot will likely play at receiver. The rest of the skill-position spots are experienced. Sean Stevenson, Joey Owen and LeSean Wilcox will get most of the carries, and Marshall Nielson and Sefa Tanoai should get most of the catches. Bryce Walker, at 6-foot-8 and 300 pounds, anchors a line that also includes Parker Dawe and Shawn Havili. The Vikings' defense should again be strong, with Michael Ivan and Bryan Sampson leading a group that will be tough to run against. Kicker Josue Meza might have the league's most-accurate leg.
STRENGTHS: The backbone of Pleasant Grove's success in recent seasons has been a tough and stingy defense. That should not change this year, and the Vikings might even be better in that category. This team has good overall experience and is full of athletic and strong players. The kicking game is also very strong and dependable.
QUESTION MARKS: The Vikings might become a team that leans too heavily on Wilcox to make things happen. To win the region and get to the playoffs, they need several others to contribute to the offensive attack. Most expect the Vikings to run the ball very well, but no one knows if they can throw it as well. Even though the line is big, strong and experienced, it's not extremely deep and could be severely weakened by injuries.
LAST YEAR: 7-4, tied for first in region, lost in first round to Davis.
PREDICTED REGION 4 FINISH: First.
POSTSEASON POSSIBILITIES: The Vikings definitely have the talent to earn one of the league's three playoff spots. If they can develop a consistent offense, they might even get through a round or two.
Aug. 22 TIMPVIEW, 7 p.m.
Aug. 28 at Provo, 7 p.m.
Sept. 5 RIVERTON, 7 p.m.
Sept. 12 at Copper Hills, 7 p.m.
Sept. 19 BRIGHTON, 7 p.m.
Sept. 26 TIMPANOGOS, 7 p.m.
Oct. 3 at Lone Peak, 7 p.m.
Oct. 10 at Spanish Fork, 7 p.m.
Oct. 15 AMERICAN FORK, 7 p.m.
Oct. 23 at Lehi, 7 p.m.
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