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By Paul Valencia 

Officially, this will be Michael Snyder’s second season as the head coach of Valley Catholic football.

To be fair, though, it really should be his first. 

It truly feels like a new beginning.

For one, he did not get a full offseason prior to last season. He was hired in mid-July. Just like that, he was starting way behind the curve.

Plus, Valley Catholic was playing as a Class 4A team. Already hampered with low turnout numbers, the Valiants had to take on teams with so many more players.

A year later, a lot has changed for the football program — and the entire athletic department.

Valley Catholic has moved to the 3A ranks, and there is new optimism.

“Even though we went 0-9 last year, the kids are really excited,” Snyder said. “They really believe we can turn things around and be competitive in each game.”

Noah Holub, a junior tight end and linebacker and one of the team leaders, echoed those thoughts. 

“It means we’ll have an opportunity to show what we really can do,” Holub said.

There were games last year when Valley Catholic suited up 20 players. Holub said the team suffered through a plague of injuries.

“We had to throw young people into starting positions. It was difficult for them to get up to speed,” he said. 

Well, most of Valley Catholic’s team was young. He meant inexperienced, too. A number of players new to varsity had to step up at once. That is tough any time, but more so when the opposing sideline often had more than 40 players in uniform.

“They’re excited to play teams and not feel like it’s a disadvantage,” Snyder said. “To actually see teams with the same number of players, they’ll feel there is a chance to be more competitive each game.”

It is actually a combination of things that will make for a more level playing field. Moving down to 3A helps, but so does the addition of Valley Catholic players. Snyder expects to have a little more than 30 players for Week 1. 

Plus, a full offseason.

“This year we were able to start a weight program,” Snyder said. “Kids have been really committed, getting stronger. It will help us on the field to prevent injuries, which killed us last year.”

Snyder has a number of leaders returning this season, too — athletes who took pride in what they were trying to do last year, even under extreme situations. The Valiants lost four games by 50 or more points. 

“An opposing coach told me he has never seen a team compete the way we did even though we were losing by a decent amount,” Snyder said. “They never gave up. They fought to the very end no matter what the score was. They focused on the play itself and not on the scoreboard. That was a big positive.” 

This is a total team project at Valley Catholic, from the coaches to the players. They are putting in the time to be part of something special. 

“We can be the start of the turnaround,” Holub said. “I also like our coaching staff. They’re really good. They’ve been sacrificing a lot. I should sacrifice for them, as well.”

Holub said he is excited about playing against teams with similar numbers. He also said if Valley Catholic can show some improvement on the field, it will help the program in the years to come.

“It could open up the opportunity for other people to think about coming out for football,” Holub said. “Maybe if we win a game or two, they’ll think it’s fun and they’ll give it a try.”

As far as this season, Holub said a league championship is always the hope. But he is also realistic.

“Not really sure we are there yet,” he acknowledged.

Four wins, though, “would be a great step for our program,” said Holub, the captain of the team’s defense.

Jackson Farris, a sophomore, earned all-league recognition his freshman year as a defensive lineman. He also started at running back in the final game of the season, picking up a 100-yard game.

Look for senior Henry McCarthy to get a lot of looks. He is a wide receiver, and the Valiants will need to find ways to get the ball in his hands. Snyder said as good as McCarthy is on offense, he is even better as a defensive back.

Ben Pfefer, a sophomore, and Alex Adams, a freshman, are in a quarterback battle.

“That’s a positive for us,” Snyder said. “It makes them better.” 

The coach’s season expectations have little to do with results. He said he wants his players to continue to zero in on every matchup, every down. 

“Just focus on beating the person in front of you every time you line up,” Snyder said. “I do think we’ll be a lot more competitive than last season.”

Off the field, Valley Catholic football had the best GPA among 4A teams last year. Snyder wants that trend to continue in 3A. 

A lot will change in a year at Valley Catholic. 

High expectations in the classroom will never change.