First-year Santa Monica High School head football coach Zach Cuda says the Vikings are focused on not only continuing their impressive progression over the past two years, but this time capping it off with an Ocean League Championship.

Cuda, who coached the Viking quarterbacks and receivers as an assistant the past two seasons, has taken over from former head coach Michael Burnett, who relocated to Virginia.

In just three years, Burnett had taken the Vikings from a winless team to a serious contender for the Ocean League title, with a second-place finish last year.

Santa Monica was in the hunt for the league crown throughout last season before losing to eventual champion Beverly Hills High School. The Vikings then lost to Arroyo Grande High School in the first round of the Southern Section Division IV playoffs and finished with an overall record of 8-3.

Coming in as the new Vikings coach, Cuda said he is hoping to continue the team’s momentum in many aspects, including its successful academic performance.

“We’re trying to keep the continuity going and the direction we’ve been going on a lot of levels,” he said.

Cuda said Santa Monica’s defensive attack should be very similar to recent years, but one big change he expects is to have quicker and more athletic players up front on offense.

While the Vikings have had to climb back to being a competitive team in recent years, Santa Monica has a history of football success, and this year the team has “every intent on getting back on track.”

But if the team is going to take a serious step toward its success from the past, Cuda said the Vikings will need to capture a league title and “make a run in the playoffs.”

“In order for us to compete in the playoffs we have to be solid up front,” Cuda said. “The big thing we need is to be a much more physical, aggressive football team this year.”

Some key returning players who are expected to lead the Viking offense this year are junior quarterback Ryan Katz, junior running back E.J. Woods and senior running back Lewis Adeyemi, who has recovered from an injury received in a car accident.

Woods and Adeyemi will also step up to play outside linebacker.

Senior free safety Cameron Collins, who will also play wide receiver, should to be a main contributor on defense.

Other key returning defenders are senior middle linebacker David Naylor and senior defensive tackle Damon Middleton.

Santa Monica will open the season against host Hueneme High School of Oxnard at 7 p.m. Friday, September 8th.

The Vikings will have their share of challenges in the pre-league season, such as rival Venice High School in a visiting game Thursday, September 21st, and host Los Alamitos High Thursday, October 5th.

Another non-league match-up is against crosstown opponent St. Monica High School at Santa Monica College Corsair Field Friday, September 29th.

Cuda expects Santa Monica to be “very much in the mix” for the league championship, but knows it will come down to the team’s performances at home against Culver City High Friday, October 27th, and defending league champion Beverly Hills High School Friday, October 20th.