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Purcellville (Dec. 6, 2013) – It’s been quite a journey for the Loudoun Valley High School football team.
During the preseason, the Vikings attracted attention when some parents and boosters publicly voiced concern about the safety of the team’s players based on their regular season schedule that pitted them against some of the area’s biggest schools. But now, after taking on all comers, big schools and small alike, the Vikings are enjoying the final chapter of a truly historic season. Sporting an 11-2 record, the Vikings and their rabid student cheering section known as “The Jungle” will host Northside (another band of marauding Vikings from near Roanoke) this Saturday in the school’s first appearance in the state football semifinals since 1976.
It’s not as if the Purcellville school has been completely devoid of football success in recent years.
In head coach Danny McGrath’s second and third seasons, the Vikings had winning seasons and made the playoffs in 2010. But the last two years saw team finish below .500, including close losses to crosstown rival Woodgrove. While the school competes in postseason in the reconfigured 3A classification — a result of the Virginia High School League’s efforts to better align schools of equal enrollment—the Vikings still faced the tough regular season schedule against many larger schools that drew the concern of some connected with the program.
Armed with the determination fitting of their mascot and a ground-and-pound rushing attack and defense led by junior running back Andrew Cordani and do everything linebacker/running back/Wildcat quarterback/“insert position of your choice” Brandon Grayson, the Vikings success comes as no surprise to McGrath, who believes the team is buoyed by one trait that has helped propel them all season.
“Relentlessness. Our players continue to stare all challenges down and take on the task before them. Our guys are pretty battle tested and ready for what lies ahead. They have a great ability to focus on the next challenge, and work their butts off Monday through Thursday to get ready for the next game.”
This never say die attitude is embodied by the entire team, but perhaps best exemplified through the play and leadership of Cordani and Grayson. The team’s leading rusher, Cordani suffered a shoulder injury against Loudoun County earlier this season. After sitting out nearly a month, the bruising rusher returned two weeks ago, and his 119 yards and a score helped propel the team to a 25-13 playoff win over Hopewell.
“He’s an incredibly talented young man, and we’re very lucky to have a guy like him who is so good on and off the field,” said McGrath.
If the Loudoun Valley football team were a storm, Grayson would likely play the role of lightning to Cordani’s thunder. The Viking baseball standout has flashed his athletic prowess on both sides of the ball this year. The team’s leading tackler has led a defensive attack that is giving up less than 10 points per game during the payoffs. And in last week’s regional final game against Central, Grayson ripped off two 66-yard touchdown runs out of the “wildcat” formation to help blow the game wide open and propel the Vikings to a 34-6 win.
“He could be your team’s starting point guard, center in lacrosse, infielder, he could probably do the pommel horse [in gymnastics],” said McGrath of Grayson’s athletic abilities, “He’s a great young man and has the leadership abilities and work ethic that you want all your players to emulate.”
The Viking players and coaches hope to carry the good vibes they’ve been enjoying thus far for another two weeks and a state title. But the challenge ahead is a tough one. Northside has been a dominant force for several years, capturing a Division 3 state title in 2009. McGrath reported they are “very good program” that is “fundamentally sound” and the “best team” his squad has faced this season. Even with a tough match up on the horizon, McGrath is enjoying every moment of the playoff journey, and says the best part is the fact that with every win, the players and coaches get to spend more time as a team.
“It’s just been such a wonderful experience all year, and to have an extra month together, we all feel very lucky to have the extra time together and hope we can keep it going a little longer.”