Santa Monica High School football coach Michael Burnett says his Vikings are ready to expand on their impressive turnaround of last year by capturing the Ocean League Championship this season.

Last season the Vikings completed a major transformation, in which they went from a 0-9-1 record in the previous season to a 6-4 record.

The Vikings also made a serious run at the Ocean League title, but came up short in the last regular season game and finished in a tie for second place. The team was defeated by Ventura High School in the first round of the Southern Section playoffs.

“The players were real committed and they made the point to get better,” Burnett said. “We need to build on that to get further in the playoffs.”

This season Santa Monica no longer needs to prove it can be a league challenger, but a league champion, Burnett said.

“We feel the league championship is a very realistic goal.”

Burnett said Santa Monica has a returning squad capable of putting the Vikings in position to win the league title this season and compete in the playoffs.

The Vikings will be led by a pair of younger players at the running back position, including junior Lewis Adeyemi and sophomore E.J. Woods.

The team will also rely on another young player, sophomore Ryan Katz, to start as quarterback.

Tight end Christoff Neuman leads the pack of key returning seniors for Santa Monica. Neuman has been rated by the Los Angeles Times as the number-seven returning tight end in the Southern Section.

Other seniors include wide receiver Freddy Leslie, outside linebacker Michael Henley, senior linebackers Robert Garcia and Chapin Herman and defensive back Carlton Fortenberry.

Among other players expected to contribute are junior wide receivers Cameron Collins and Geo Allen and junior cornerback Keith Kilgore.

Burnett said the Vikings have plenty of depth at the skill positions, but the team lacks experience at the line.

“The question for us will be the line and it’s a matter of experience,” he said.

Santa Monica will again open the season against West Torrance High School at 7 p.m. Friday, September 9th, at Santa Monica College Corsair Field.

“It’ll be good for us because it gets us ready,” Burnett said of the West Torrance game.

Another game that is sure to test the Vikings is against three-time defending Western League champion Venice High School Friday, September 23rd, at Corsair Field.

“We can’t wait for Venice,” he said. “It will be a good test to show people where we’re at.”

Santa Monica also expects a pre-league challenge from city rival St. Monica High School Friday, September 30th, at Corsair Field.

The Ocean League season for Santa Monica starts Friday, October 14th, against Inglewood.

While Burnett said that the Vikings will not overlook any league opponent, if the team expects to rise to the top of the league it will need to dethrone defending league champion Hawthorne High School.

“We made a huge jump last year,” Burnett said. “We are curious to see if we can take it to the next level, and I hope we can.”

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