North Salinas football

North Salinas (4-6, 2-4)
 A return to the Gabilan Division last season seemed like a cruel joke. Granted, North Salinas was coming off a Pacific Division title and reached the CCS Division I semifinals in 2015.
 But 20 of its 32 players during its title run where seniors. Graduation left the cupboard bare at numerous positions.
 "Same thing this year,'' North Salinas coach Darren Spence said. "We lost 25 players to graduation, or they didn't come back out.''
 There is one significant difference. The Vikings lost the MVP from last year's team in record setting quarterback Tim Burkhardt to graduation.
 "We're a young football team at a lot of positions,'' Spence said. "So that creates uncertainly. Yeah, I am nervous. Until you go up against other teams, you're not sure.''
 What is evident is there's a lot of fire on the practice field. It was chippy at a recent practice. Yet, each huddle break ends with 'Family'.
 "Right now we lack some maturity,'' North Salinas senior lineman Cristo Ayo said. "But I've seen a lot of growth in a short time. Slowly we're coming together.''
 No one waits in the Gabilan Division, where six of the eight teams went to the postseason last year.
 Going 2-2 in its final four games last fall was enough to keep the Vikings in the Gabilan Division. But now it has to replace a record setting three-year starting quarterback.
 A cast of new characters includes just eight players that saw significant time on the field from last year.
 "The jamboree will let us know what we're doing,'' said Spence, speaking of Friday's Salinas City Jamboree at Rabobank Stadium.
 The Vikings clearly have a battle in front of them in their quest to return to the postseason. Their non-league schedule includes playoff powers Piedmont Hills and Mountain View.
 Meaning eight of the 10 teams on their schedule went to the postseason last year.
 "When people talk about tough schedules, take a look at ours,'' Spence said.
 The off-season, though, was solid for North Salinas as players got stronger and faster. Those that did commit have bought into the system.
 "We've added a couple of new wrinkles,'' Spence said. "We have some skilled guys. Now we have to get them the ball.''
 Spence was referring to a group of fleet receivers that includes Ritchie Reyes, who caught 45 passes last fall, and Jeff Robles, Tim Hunter and Noah Rodriguez.
 Who will be the quarterback is open for debate. Spence likely won't make an official decision until after the jamboree.
 "We've got two guys working hard,'' Spence said. "I'm not ready to commit yet.''
 The offensive line will look to move the pile with Ayo, Steve Mathisen and Eli Raymundo all a year older, joined by a pair of 260 plus pound sophomore beasts in Wilber Vargas and Rafael Medina.
 That could spring tailback Justin Vargas, who is expected to get his share of carries.
 Ayo will move around on the defensive line, creating havoc for opponents, along with Mathisen, who is just a junior.
 "We'll be fine on defense,'' insisted Spence. "We're going back to doing the things that fit our kids. We're going to put more pressure on offenses.''
 What's critical for North Salinas is not being forced to play from behind, having been outscored 99-47 in the first quarter last season.
 "We need to believe,'' said Ayo, a two year starter on the defensive front, and the teams center. "Not from an individual standpoint. But as a team.''

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