Expectations haven’t always been the highest heading into a new football season when you talk about the Mills Vikings.
For years, the boys in red from Millbrae struck little fear into opponents as the calendar turned to September — a 1-13-1 record in league play over the last three seasons won’t make anyone necessarily quiver in their cleats.
But perhaps the most significant accomplishment by now second-year head coach Mike Krieger during his first season at the helm is a sense of confidence and camaraderie that exists on the Mills campus. At 1-4 in Peninsula Athletic League Lake Division play last season, the results weren’t necessary visible in the win-loss column, but this season, the “core” that Krieger and his staff keep talking about has the Vikings optimistic.
“We have some returning seniors from last year who are going to be leaders on our team both on offense and defense — athletic, key-position-type players,” Krieger said. “And then we’re looking for several key juniors to step in and be starters right away. We just need to rally the group around the core and have them elevate their game.”
Elevate is the key word for the Vikings this season. No longer will Mills catch Lake opponents off-guard — the word is out and the Vikings are no one’s pushover. So the key for Mills in trying to record its first winning league season since 2007 is turning last season’s element of surprise into a focused attack.
“We want our players to play hard from whistle to whistle, game to game and we’ll worry about the scoreboard at the end of the game,” Krieger said. “Let’s control the things we can control. If we give an honest, 100-percent effort, and we’re good teammates in supporting each other, with the players that we have right now, we should be competitive week in and week out in the Lake Division.”
A lot of the team’s confidence revolves around running back Antonio Jeffrey, who had a breakout season as a sophomore and is back from a leg injury he suffered at the end of last year.
Krieger said Jeffrey had a solid off-season.
“He’s bigger, stronger, faster,” Krieger said. “He’ll be a focal point for sure. We need to share the ball in order to keep opposing defenses off of him — certainly give Antonio his touches, but also not just use him as a one-trick pony.”
The Mills offense has a handful of horses. Krieger said there are about five wide receivers competing in camp for starting positions, including his two starters from last season. Victor Beglitsoff seems to be the most gifted, physically, of the bunch.
But the most interesting and compelling race is happening at the quarterback position. There’s a bit of buzz surrounding the play of Marquis Atkins, who brings a lot of athleticism and size to QB. His athletic talent has him in wide-out and linebacker races as well.
“He certainly has the athletic ability to turn heads and draw a lot of attention to what we’re doing on the football field,” Krieger said. “It’s going to just depend on how the quarterback position falls.”
Mills doesn’t have much bulk in the trenches, but they have a player in Sale Langi, who can be a very interesting and dominating element for the program.
“He can be a difference-maker on the offensive line and defensive line,” Krieger said. “His size alone will create mismatches for us.”
In addition, Krieger said a player of Gabe Sanchez’s quality gives his team one of the better lineman in the PAL Lake.
Player turn out continues to be an issue for Mills — so Krieger and his staff are managing those pesky training camp injuries very closely. But as he mentioned, if they’re able to stay healthy, the Vikings could pose several problems for Lake opponents.
“We certainly need to limit the turnovers,” Krieger said. “We aren’t good enough to overcome one or two turnovers a game and keep our defense out there longer. We need to absorb some clock, put some points on the board and give our defense a rest.”
Coach: Mike Krieger (second year)
2012-13 record: 3-6-1 overall, 1-4 PAL Lake
Key Players: Victor Beglitsofsr., WR/DL), Josh Sved (sr., RB/LB), Jephta Zapata (sr., OL/DL), Gabe Sanchez (sr., OL/DL), Marquis Atkins (jr., QB/WR/LB), Sale Langi (sr., OL/DL), Antonio Jeffrey (sr., RB).
2013-14 schedule (Home games in CAPS): 9/7 Harbor, 2 p.m.; 9/14 MISSION SAN JOSE, 1:30 p.m.; 9/21 San Lorenzo Valley, 2 p.m.; 9/27 LOS ALTOS, 7 p.m.; 10/11 EL CAMINO, 3 p.m.; 10/19 King’s Academy, 7 p.m.; 10/25 HILLSDALE, 3 p.m.; 11/1 JEFFERSON, 7 p.m.; 11/8 Carlmont, 7 p.m.; 11/15 Capuchino, 7 p.m.