With the departure of long time head coach Earl Hansen and senior star quarterback Keller Chryst, the Palo Alto High School football team has its eyes set on lofty heights headed by a new core of leaders.
The regular season kicks off at 7 p.m. tomorrow evening on the road against Sequoia High School.
First-year head coach Jake Halas, a former assistant on Hansen’s coaching staff, said that replacing Hansen has not been an issue of concern or as hard as people initially thought, citing his thrill for the start of the season as his No. 1 emotion.
“I’m more excited than anything,” Halas said. “I don’t feel anxious or nervous to fill [the head coaching position]. That’s not the pressure. The pressure is getting the team to all be on the same page.”
Last year’s team, which finished 6-6 overall, had its season cut short when it fell to the Saint Francis Lancers during the second round of league playoffs.
Along with Chryst, other graduated seniors included Malcolm Davis, Keesean Johnson and Andrew Frick. Despite these departures, junior quarterback Oliver Svirsky is confident in his teammates, most notably on offense.
“Our current roster is solid,” Svirsky said. “We are very strong in our receiver and running back spots and overall I think we can do great things as a unit. Our coaching staff is very committed and very invested in making us a better team, setting us up to be successful.”
One of Svirsky’s top receivers this year, junior Eli Givens, echoed Svirsky’s words, adding that he has a personal goal for the upcoming season. According to Halas, Givens is coming off a year where he was named All-League sophomore of the year.
“It’s going to be a good season,” Givens said. “We’ve got great coaches and great teammates. My top goal is to get over 1,000 receiving yards this year.”
Svirsky and Givens, along with juniors Mikey Grandy, Tonga Latu and senior Jayshawn Puckett, are this year’s team captains. With the current roster standing at 22 juniors compared to just nine seniors, Halas believes that the team is in need of some senior leadership, citing Puckett as a key veteran presence.
“We do have some seniors that we need to step up,” Halas said. “We need him to step up. There’s a couple other seniors, but we are junior heavy. We need some senior leadership, we need somebody to step up from the senior class.”
Overall, Halas is eager to see if his team’s success in practice will pay off during games.
“I’m looking forward to seeing these guys play,” Halas said. “We’ve got Sequoia, next week, so we’ll see what we can do. I’m really curious to see our boys compete. They’ve been working hard, there’s no doubt. We’ll just see if we can put it all together.”
The Vikings first home game is at 7 p.m. on Sept. 19 against the Archbishop Mitty Monarchs.