Palo Alto High has a storied football tradition. The 2010 Vikings were the first Central Coast Section team to win a state championship and the only CCS team to do so until last year when St. Francis, Milpitas and Serra all joined the party in a drastically expanded state playoff structure that included 13 divisional state champions.
But since longtime coach Earl Hansen retired following the 2013 season, Palo Alto has had four consecutive losing seasons.
But there are definite grounds for optimism as the 2018 season is about to begin. Last year's team was predominantly sophomores and juniors. As a result there are experienced returning players on hand at virtually every position.
There is also a new head coach in Paly graduate Nelson Gifford and a dedication on hand to the endeavor of getting the program turned around.
It all starts at quarterback where Jackson Chryst, who picked up a scholarship offer from the University of San Diego over the summer, returns for his third year as the starter.
"He's looking real good,'' Gifford said. "He's very studious, brings his notebook every day. It's clear he wants to be good.''
Chryst struggled in a run-based Wing-T the last two years. The Vikings will be more wide open this season; Chryst will be taking snaps in the shotgun, rather than under center, in a more pass-friendly system.
Aiden Chang (931 yards rushing last season) returns at running back where he will be complemented by Wes Walters (6-0, 225), a hard-hitting linebacker who provides a physical dimension.
"Wes is a challenge to tackle one on one,'' Gifford said.
Chryst will throw to an experienced and deep group of receivers. Jamir Shepard, Junacio Henley and Paul Thie all saw significant time last season. They will be joined by Walker Rosenthal, Chris Martinez and Joey Passarello at wideout.
"It feels good to put the second team out there and realize that's a competitive group,'' Gifford said.
The offensive unit also has depth at tight end where Lou Passarello (6-3, 235), Seattle Hmelar and Colin Giffen have impressed in practice.
Left tackle Andres Jimenez (6-0, 265) returns to lead the offensive line along with Alex Daw (5-9, 255) at center, and Kevin Giffen (5-10, 294) and Meesi Mahe (5-10, 200) at guard.
David Hickey (6-3, 230), Alberto Ruiz (6-3, 285) and Jackson Bundy (6-0, 250), the one sophomore on the varsity, are competing for playing time opposite Jimenez at the other tackle slot.
Tyler Foug returns as the kicker.
The defense will be led by Walters, Hmelar, Mahe and Dwayne Trahan at linebacker, Lou Passarello and Bryon Escarsega-Calderon on the line along with Henley and Damion Richard-Valencia in the secondary.
The team will be tested right from the start. Paly opens the season with non-league games against St. Ignatius, Half Moon Bay, McClymonds and Aragon before SCVAL play begins with games against Milpitas and Wilcox. Those Week 2 through Week 5 opponents were a combined 52-4 last season.
"It's not easy but it's what we want,'' Gifford said. "We want to play strong opponents in order to show that our program is where we want it to be. The kids have to compete against the best and show the values we want to be known for.
"Our call, you've seen it on social media, is #BringitHome.''