RIPLEY - To put it mildly, last season was a difficult one for the Ripley Vikings.  However, there was one positive to the 2-8 season–it served as a great learning experience for head coach David Tennant, his staff, and his team.  
“It put me in a lot of situations to learn from,” Viking Head Coach David Tennant said, regarding last season, “There were some things we could build on, but there were a lot of things-it was a rough year in pretty much every aspect of the game.  So we have to take it, learn from it, and don’t make the same mistakes twice.”
Overall though, Tennant and his team learned that everything from last year needed to be improved on.
“Everything about last year, we can improve on,” Tennant said, “We needed to be stronger and faster, we needed to be more prepared.  The players took away from last year that it was a wake up call, and you need to put in the work to get the reward.”

It was indeed a difficult season last year for the Vikings, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  A brutal schedule (they played five playoff teams, including state runner up Huntington, who they will meet again this year) forced the Vikings to go against some of the state’s best competition week in and week out.  When you factor in nagging injuries that plague any football team, but especially one that lacks the depth that other schools enjoy, it was really a demanding task for Ripley last year.  On top of that, the Vikings will have to replace one of their most potent offensive weapons, all-everything wide receiver Kade Harrison.  Harrison led the Vikings in receiving last year with 44 catches for 986 yards, with 22.4 yards per catch and 11 touchdowns.  
With Harrison gone, the Vikings’ offensive focus will shift to the ground, where they have a stable of capable backs to carry the mail.  One prong of the attack will be led by senior quarterback Trevor Tucker, who finished last season with 992 rushing yards (6.0 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns, was eight yards shy of becoming Ripley’s first ever 1,000-yard passer and rusher in the same season.  Also returning is senior running back Jake Martin, who suffered a severe knee injury in the last preseason scrimmage last year, but returned for the team’s final three games and finished with 423 yards and three touchdowns in his three games.  Finally, sophomore twin brothers Chase and Chance Morgan will help provide depth at the running back spot.  Chance has shown flashes of strong running in the preseason, while Chase is recovering from a hairline fracture in his foot.  Through the air, the Vikings will look to senior wide receiver Alex Hambrick to pick up where Harrison left off.  Hambrick, a 5 foot 11, 182 pound target, drew rave reviews from the coaching staff for his work ethic throughout summer camp.  In the trenches, seniors Bradley Knotts and Isaac Koontz will anchor the offensive line that will provide the blocking and protection for the Vikes.
The biggest strides this season will have to be made by the Viking defense, which will feature double duty from many of the offensive players.  The secondary should be the team’s strong suit, with Tucker, Hambrick, and Martin all roaming the defensive backfield making life difficult for opposing receivers.  Chance Morgan will be looked on to provide stability in the middle at linebacker, while Koontz and Knotts will be tasked with getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks from the defensive line.

With all that in mind, it was clear throughout the summer and preseason that the Vikings were willing to put the work in and were listening to what their coaches were preaching to them.
“The coaching staff that we have has really asked a lot of [the players],” Tennant said, “Coach [Justin] Johnson has our offensive and defensive line working and talking.  He’s building that offensive and defensive line and is doing a great job with them.  Coach [Daniel] Murphy is also a new guy coming in, his defense is all about attack and he’s on every single kid to attack.  This defense is more of a ‘we’re going to hit you first.’”
One aspect that Tennant is thankful for this season will be senior leadership.  The Vikings have leaders on both sides of the ball, and the team will look toward them to guide them through a tough slate.
“We need leaders,” Tennant said, “That’s one thing we lacked last year.  A leader holds their teammates accountable.  On the field and in the locker room, you hold them accountable.  Everything you do affects this team.  You need your leaders to lead in all aspects if they want people to follow them.”
The Vikings once again face a brutal schedule, in both non-conference and MSAC games. One of the early season tests will be at home against buzzsaw Point Pleasant on September 5.  The Knights are coming off a playoff trip last year, and return virtually all of their starters.  After that game, the Vikes will open conference play at home against Winfield on September 12, but then go on the road to take on Spring Valley (another 2013 playoff team) on September 19 and then travel to Huntington on September 26.  The Vikings will also face South Charleston on October 10 and George Washington at home on Halloween, before closing the season at Ravenswood in the Hatchet Game.   
Still, Tennant and his staff have drilled into their players to take it one game at a time and not look ahead.  As it stands right now, there is only one focus for the Vikings, and that is their season opener at Parkersburg South.
“Every bit of our focus is on Parkersburg South,” Tennant said, “It is the game. You win, and you get the momentum going into Point Pleasant.  South beat us last year pretty good, and we want to get them back.  It’s very personal.  Right now, Parkersburg South is the only team on our schedule.”

That being said, Tennant was forthcoming when discussing his expectations for his team this season.
“Of course you want to win every game, but right now our main focus is beating South,” Tennant said, “After South, we’ll worry about Point Pleasant and on and on. Our number one focus, if we want to have a great season, is to beat Parkersburg South.”
Clearly the Vikings are advocating the “one game at a time” mantra this season, and it’s probably their best course of action.  After the hard lessons learned last season, the Vikings can only go up.  When the Vikings meet Parkersburg South in their season opener on August 29th in Parkersburg, they will finally have the opportunity to put last season in the rear view mirror, and focus solely on the road ahead. With last season’s lessons guiding them, this year the Vikings have the roadmap to success.