This is the 14th in a series of stories on high school football teams in the Bi-City. Coming Thursday: Marion County
2013 record: 7-4
Key players: DeAndre Bowman, Luke Dawahare, KeAndre Ashley, Chris Rehak, Mikal Marble
Key game: at Brookstone, Oct. 24 and at Hawkinsville, Oct. 31
Outlook: When Randy Grace took over Pacelli's football program in 2011, he was wading into a situation many thought he couldn't escape from.
The season before he arrived, Pacelli had gone 0-10. There wasn't much of a roster, not much depth and no discipline in the weight room. Pacelli was a cupcake game for opponents, and few thought that could change.
It took Grace just three seasons to return the Vikings to the playoffs. Now, a year later, they're hungry for more.
"This is the toughest group I've ever coached," Grace said at practice on Wednesday. "They're ready. They're itching to get out there and play somebody."
On Wednesday, they were running a simulated game -- full contact, high energy and lots of competition. On one play, a botched exchange on a handoff resulted in a fumble and junior defensive back DeAndre Bowman scooped up the ball and took off for the opposite end zone to the cheers of his defensive coaches.
"We're having fun," Grace said. "These kids have put in the work. Honestly, I think we're ahead of schedule. I didn't ever think we'd be where we are when I first got here."
Bowman is a big reason Pacelli can expect success. The do-it-all athlete put up fantastic numbers on offense, defense and special teams last season, and the expectations are even higher this year. Luke Dawahare and KeAndre Ashley add more weapons in the running game, and it doesn't hurt to be running behind an offensive line that includes the 6-foot-3, 320-pound Chris Rehak.
The offense lost quarterback Wyatt Peterson to graduation. He was the unquestioned leader on the team last year. In his place, though, will be junior Tre Sudberry, who Grace expressed high expectations for.
Sudberry started on junior varsity last season, and Grace pointed to the success of the program at that level as a big reason for optimism.
He's also got a number of juniors and seniors in the starting lineup this year, whereas the majority were freshmen, sophomores and juniors last year.
Defensively, Rehak, Ben Davis, Walter Meeks and Marcous Herrerra give the Vikings a stout defensive front. Junior safety Mikal Marble and Bowman lead and equally talented secondary.
Needless to say, it'll be tough to score points on the Vikings this season.
The region is as tough as ever, with Hawkinsville and Marion County looking like the top two contenders. The latter won the Class A-public state championship last year. Dooly County should be considered among the top contenders, as well.
And believe it or not, Pacelli might not be far behind. Can they knock off those three teams? You shouldn't count them out. On any given Friday, Pacelli might be the best team on the field.