VARNA — Last year, the River Valley football team recorded three wins — two more than the program ever had in a season — but that doesn’t mean the Falcons were satisfied with their progress.
“I think we were disappointed,” third-year RV coach Galen Noard said. “Those three wins were not where we wanted to be. We thought we were a playoff team last year. That’s the goal now. We definitely want to step it up even further than just getting into the playoffs. We want to make a statement.”
With 14 returning lettermen, Noard and the Falcons are confident they can do that.
Offensively, the Falcons have an experienced and big line — led by returning senior starters Jake Starry (6-foot-2, 260 pounds) at tackle and Blake Bodie (6-2, 235) at guard — that averages 246.4 pounds among the seven players expected to contribute.
“We have some very good linemen,” Noard said. “We went to a linemen competition this summer and dominated the schools that were there. We’re feeling really good about that. They’re good sized and yet they can run. We’re excited.”
Running behind the line is an experienced and talented backfield, headlined by seniors Tom Miller and Nathan Helle, who will both rotate between quarterback and running back.
Miller ran for 886 yards and 13 touchdowns last year while throwing for 500 yards and seven scores to earn NewsTribune All-Area honors, while Helle racked up 586 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
“I expect big things — at least 30 points a game. I think we can do it,” Miller said. “Our line (is a strength). We have a bunch of running backs coming back who are pretty good. … We showed in 7-on-7 that we can pass, and I think we’re going to do that a little more than we did last year, but we’re more of a running team.”
Defensively, Noard expects the Falcons to be much improved over the unit that allowed 31.7 points per game last season.
The Falcons will have good size on the line with many of the offensive linemen playing both ways.
Helle will rotate between defensive end and linebacker after being an NT All-Area end last season, while junior Sam Poignant returns at linebacker after earning All-Lincoln Trail Conference Second-Team honors last year.
Miller and junior Kyle Henderson return to anchor the secondary.
“We scored very well last year. Unfortunately, our defense wasn’t up to what it should be,” Noard said. “But we have a lot of guys coming back on that side of the ball. … We should be much improved.”
The Falcons hope it adds up to not only the program’s first-ever playoff berth but also a strong showing in the team’s final season in the Lincoln Trail, which booted River Valley to make room for a partnership with the Prairieland Conference.
“Our goal is to win the conference,” Noard said. “It’s our last year in the Lincoln Trail and we have a chip on our shoulders for them doing what they did to us. It wasn’t right. It was done for ease rather than doing things correctly. Our kids know that and want to show them we are a good football team.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.