With a junior-heavy roster, Forest Grove aims to build up the program with steady improvement

Despite an 0-2 record heading into this week’s road game against Tualatin, the Forest Grove football team has proven that it is not a pushover, no matter what the score.

The Vikings trailed both Beaverton and Hood River early, but rallied back to give themselves a chance to win both games.

The Viking defense played well for much of the 33-26 loss to Beaverton on Aug. 31 and last Friday’s 34-21 loss to Hood River (see story on page A13). In each game, though, the Vikings could not put together a complete effort on the defensive side of the ball and it cost them.

“The first game we really tackled well against Beaverton,” Forest Grove coach Dwight Jensen said. “We gave up quite a few points but it was on a few (coverage) breakdowns. We cleaned our coverage up last week (against Hood River), but then we didn’t tackle very well for two quarters.”

The fact that the defense has been able to make adjustments inside of games does bode well for the Vikings, though. That Forest Grove has not given up in those games is even more important. Especially considering how young of a team the Vikings are.

“We’re really junior heavy,” Jensen said. “We only have a couple of seniors starting on each side of the ball. The last two weeks we found ourselves down but we didn’t give up in either game against senior dominated teams.

“They are hanging in there. They’re not giving up and they’re making games exciting at the end.”

With the youth on the Vikings’ roster, the ceiling is very high for what the team might become as the season progresses.

“The strengths are that they have a lot of room to grow and a lot of potential,” Jensen said. “They’re working hard in practice and we’re competing pretty hard.”

The Vikings only have three seniors on their defense — middle linebacker Steven Izquierdo, defensive tackle Ricardo Miranda and defensive end Nick Carter. But, those three veterans give the rest of the young Forest Grove defense enough experience to compete.

The Viking offense is loaded with juniors both on the line and at the skill positions. The lack of experience on the line has made running the ball difficult. Jensen wants Forest Grove to have a 60-40 run to pass ratio. But, with the line struggling to create holes for running backs Izquierdo and Jake Lebrun the Vikings are closer to 60 percent passing and 40 percent running.

“We’ve got to get our line playing better so we can move the ball and control the clock,” Jensen said. “That’s the big thing. We’ve got all the juniors up front on our offensive line and they’ve been struggling a little bit moving bodies, so the run game hasn’t been real successful for us thus far, which has forced us to throw the football to get some points.”

The Viking passing attack is continuing to get better as junior Zac Collins makes the transition from receiver — which he played last season — to quarterback.

“He’s really poised, that’s what I really appreciate about him,” Jensen said of Collins. “He doesn’t bail out of the pocket if there’s pressure. He stays in the pocket, sidesteps, evades the rush and lets the lineman work for him.

“Going to quarterback, he’s just done an exceptional job. The first week his completion rate was under 40 percent. (Last) week he was close to 50 percent. Our goal is to get him up to 65 percent completion rate.”

As the season progresses, Jensen would like to see Forest Grove continue to improve on a week-to-week basis so that the Vikings can be playing their best football at the end of the season and possibly make a run in the playoffs.

“Our primary goal is to try to get better each and every week and peak at the end of the season when the playoffs come around, whether we’re in a play-in game, or we make it into the playoffs,” Jensen said. “Our goal is just constant improvement.”

If the Vikings are able to improve throughout the season, it bodes well for them in the future when their juniors become seniors.

“We’ve got most of these kids coming back next year,” Jensen says. “If we can make them better football players by the end of this season, that’s going to be huge for us because next year we should be a senior dominated team.”

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