Las Vegas Sun

October 25, 2014

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kickoff 2014:

Close-knit Virgin Valley undeterred by change, poised to keep moving forward

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

From left, Virgin Valley High School football players Brayden Lee, Branden Haun and Junior Paongo on July 21, 2014.

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The season begins

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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer try to contain their excitement for the start of the football season enough to get through the first slate of games. They also discuss the two defending state champions, Bishop Gorman and Faith Lutheran.

Virgin Valley High School 2014 football preview

Las Vegas Sun sports editor Ray Brewer talks to Virgin Valley High School's football coach and key players ahead of their 2014 season.

Making the trek an hour south to Las Vegas from Mesquite twice in less than a month for football functions, Virgin Valley brought an entourage of coaches and players.

The crew rarely left each other’s sides in either instance, smiling and laughing through every spare moment. The Bulldogs’ camaraderie was apparent.

“We’re definitely hard-nosed, but we’re a family all at the same time,” senior Junior Paongo said. “We work together. We have a lot of chemistry too, so that’s what’s going to take us far.”

Virgin Valley is thinking big heading into the 2014 season. Coming off of their best back-to-back seasons since 2007 and 2008, when they were perennial state championship contenders, the Bulldogs want to reach new heights.

And they won’t let anything stand in their way, like the departure of coach Chris Sawyers, who left to take the Sunrise Mountain job. Replacement Yuri Ludvigson, who left a coaching job in Utah to take the Virgin Valley position, immediately filled in without a hitch.

“He helped us become better teammates to each other, a bigger family,” senior linebacker Brayden Lee said. “He’s helped us a lot, and I think we can do great things with him.”

As two of only four seniors on the roster, Paongo and Lee are filling a leadership role for Virgin Valley. What the Bulldogs lack in experience, Ludvigson believes they can make up with heart.

The senior class may be small, but Ludvigson makes it sound mighty.

“I’ve got some new kids coming in,” Ludvigson said. “I just give the ball to (Paongo) and say, ‘run fast,’ get the guys to block and we’re money, right?’”

Every other skill player who produced any offense last season graduated, and Paongo had fewer than 100 yards himself. But with wide receiver Keegan Biasi and tight end Chase Henderson, Ludvigson is confident Virgin Valley can reload quickly.

The new coach is keeping several of the schemes that brought success over the past couple of years.

“A lot of the same offense, but we’ll tweak it a little bit,” Ludvigson said. “A little different, a little more our style, but it will be fun to watch.”

Ludvigson brought in Steve White, who was on the Virgin Valley staff during the glory days of the mid-2000s, to run the defense.

White can probably remember a time when Virgin Valley was more competitive with archrival Moapa Valley. Much to the chagrin of the Mesquite community, Moapa Valley has won nine straight meetings against Virgin Valley.

“Who’s that, the team to the south?” Ludvigson asked facetiously when queried on Moapa Valley. “We’ll be all right. That’s a great rivalry. That’s what high school is about. Those small towns, two little towns close to each other. How do you beat that? That’s fantastic to have those guys roll into town and just get after it.”

This year’s “Hammer Game” falls on Oct. 10 in Overton, Moapa Valley’s turf. The Pirates will be favored once again, but they may have to get through a Bulldogs team oozing with solidarity.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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