Week 4 of the high school football season is in the books and the Palo Alto Vikings, led by head coach Nelson Gifford, continued their win streak against the Aragon Dons with a final score of 34-7, meaning the Vikings are now a perfect 4-0 on the season!
Going into the game, Gifford had one primary focus; to stop the run. "We knew the match up was going to be tough for us," he said. "Aragon is a big physical team that runs the ball very well." The Aragon Dons are known for being a smash mouth football team that moves the line of scrimmage by being tough and aggressive, which results in a very one sided style of play.
Of the Dons' offense Gifford said, "We knew we had to stop that aspect of their offense to get ahead of the game. It was crucial to win those transitional downs that keeps their drive alive." Although it was a daunting task the Vikings defense, led by defensive coordinator Detrick Wright, was up to the challenge. "We were physical; every player did their job, and we made some great open field tackles," Gifford said.
Starting from the opening kickoff, the Palo Alto Vikings seemed to have everything going their way. "On the opening kick we pooched it to about the 35-yard line and one of our guys was fast enough to get down there and jump on the ball," said Gifford. "We went out on offense and the second play of the game we score." The Vikings' defense came out on their first series and managed the Dons' strong rushing attack.
After getting the ball back, Gifford said, "I called a set up play thinking we were going to run a play action pass the next down, so I called a power play and our running back, Aiden Chang, decided to break an 80-yard run for a touchdown. He took the hand off and ran straight up the middle like he was shot out of a cannon."
In the second quarter, momentum shifted in favor of the Dons. "We had a few quarterback and center exchanges that created a few inconsistencies for us, which slowed down the offense in the second and third quarter," Gifford said.
Once the offense got back on track with its rushing attack, it became the Aiden Chang show. "Our coaches do a great job at getting the guys ready for game day; Sione Vaimounga works with Aiden on the little details that allow him to be an aggressive runner," said Gifford. Chang finished the game with 180 yards rushing and three total touchdowns. "He's a great kid, isn't the biggest at 175lbs, but man does he run hard," Gifford said, praising his senior running back.
When asked about critical plays that changed the game, Gifford did not hesitate to compliment his defense. "The Dons came out the second half in their big set ready to run the football," he said. "That first play went for -2 yards, and we held them to a 3 and out. We were ready for the counter punch, and got them out of their bread and butter stuff. We forced them to change their plan of attack."
The Vikings' defense is full of talented players, but one who sets the tone and dominates the line of scrimmage is Kevin Giffen. The nose guard was double teamed all game and still managed to hold his ground, finishing the game with four tackles. "He's a really strong kid that has the grit you need to play in the trenches, and his coach, Nick Cheadle, really works on his technique," said Gifford.
When describing the personality of his team, Gifford said, "They're a smart group of hard working kids. They know when to have fun and when to focus on the task at hand. Most importantly, they love football. We have about 32 guys on the roster and I can tell you all 32 are fully invested and ready to play."
The Vikings have been stellar all year and look to keep the momentum rolling. "There is a standard level of performance we set; if we follow the process and meet that standard, we'll be on the winning side of things," said Gifford. "Don't make it about winning or losing. Make it about getting better and self-reflection."
As for Gifford, this is his first coaching stint at Palo Alto but his 15th year as a football coach. He also graduated from Palo Alto High School in 1998, which makes his upcoming 20th reunion especially special now that he is the head coach of his alma mater. Nelson has coached at the high school level for eight years although his resume includes stints at Laney College, UC Davis, and Cal Berkeley.
Although he had other plans for his future, Gifford always came back to his passion for coaching football. "I love everything about it," he said. "When I graduated high school, I was going to be a doctor. But, I found myself always watching football, drawing plays, and thinking about the game. I knew if I really wanted to be happy, I was going to coach football."
Because of his Bay Area roots, winning the Wedemeyer Memorial Coach of the Week award is particularly special for Gifford. "I played high school football while he [Wedemeyer] was still coaching at Los Gatos," Gifford said. "I didn't have a personal relationship with him, but I have known about him for a long time. It's an honor to be acknowledged by his foundation. He is the living embodiment of no excuses. He did it with his wife, which shows you that you can't walk the path alone. It's the power of people that perseveres,"he recounted.
As our Charlie Wedemeyer Memorial Coach of the Week presented by U.S. Bank, Coach Gifford will receive a $1,000 grant for the Palo Alto Viking football program from the 49ers Foundation. As part of this award, he will also receive two tickets to a 49ers home game where he will be recognized on the field. Coach Gifford will also be invited to visit the SAP Performance Facility to watch a closed practice where 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan will officially present him with his award. He will also be featured on the 49ers Cal-Hi Sports Report On Sunday's at 6 p.m. & 10p.m. on NBC Sports California and re-broadcast throughout the week.
Congratulations, Coach Gifford!