ST. JOHN — Junior Hayden Vinyard speaks for Valparaiso when asked about the team’s goals for the remainder of the strangest of seasons.
“Lucas Oil (Stadium). That’s about it,” Vinyard said.
The Vikings offense looked the part in a 44-17 Duneland Athletic Conference win at Lake Central (1-8, 0-7) Friday, in part due to Vinyard. He had 146 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.
“(Vinyard’s) a fanatic in the weight room. He’s team-first and says very little. He doesn’t want the accolades,” coach Bill Marshall said. “We’re excited to have him. He comes from a great family. He’s a hard-working, quiet, ‘go do my job and help the team’ out kind of guy.”
Vinyard and Tommy Burbee split the carries in the backfield. The competition between the two is healthy. They joke back and forth about who was more productive after games.
Vinyard won this week. Burbee had five carries for 53 yards.
“We can only get better, with me and Burbee having competition,” Vinyard said. “We push each other pretty hard.”
Vinyard broke open the game for the Vikings (5-0, 4-0) with a 73-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
“We just saw a hole, cut left and saw the end zone and took off,” he said. “It was a big hole.”
Vinyard plays both ways, one of only two players who do that for the Vikings. Before this season, he was only a running back.
“I still think of myself as an offensive player. I thought I was only going to play offense this year, again,” he said. “They needed a little help (on defense).”
He relishes the chance to play on such a stout defense. Valparaiso is allowing under 14 points per game.
“It’s crazy how much knowledge and experience (the defensive coaches) all have,” Vinyard said. “They’re passing it down to us and it’s just a really good experience.”
Indiana commit Cooper Jones is the only other Vikings player who plays on both sides of the ball.
“Very few kids come through our program who can actually start both ways,” Marshall said.
Times No. 2 Valparaiso’s win Friday was the 21st consecutive Duneland Athletic Conference win for the Vikings. The team hasn’t lost to a conference foe since 2017.
Coach Bill Marshall said that streak is a measure of improvement for a program that didn’t win a postseason game between 2012 and 2018.
“To be able to have back-to-back undefeated regular seasons, it’s a huge testament to our kids and our coaching staff, the time and energy that they’ve put in,” Marshall said.
Valparaiso missed four games because of COVID-19. The Vikings canceled meetings with Crown Point and Merrillville after contact tracing shut down practice for two weeks last month. Scheduled games against Griffith and Michigan City were also scratched due to positive tests at those schools.
“Each week we’re just thrilled to be able to play,” Marshall said. “We’re in midseason form and some of our best games, maybe close games but some of our best games, have been in the middle of the season. The resiliency and the attitude that our kids are putting forth is what we’re looking to see, especially looking toward the postseason.”
Vinyard isn’t worried, either.
“We obviously don’t have the same experience (as last season) due to the cancellation of games but we’ll be ready,” Vinyard said.
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“I want to help my team win, and to get a (DAC) championship feels good.”
“We knew going into this that Lowell was basically an undefeated team, so we treated them like it."
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