After years of adversity, Cole Valley football team turns fortunes around

The faith-based Meridian school is in the 2A state playoffs for first time in school history.

rroberts@idahostatesman.comNovember 8, 2013 

In 2009, Cole Valley Christian Athletic Director Matt Beglinger announced that the Chargers would no longer be able to field a varsity football team.

Participation at the faith-based private school in Meridian was at an all-time low after three seasons of losing in the 2A Western Idaho Conference.

From 2006 to 2008, the Chargers went a combined 2-23, finishing last each year in the 2A WIC.

That hardship is what makes Cole Valley's 2013 season all the more special.

The Chargers are the only unbeaten team remaining in the 2A classification and host a state quarterfinal game against top-ranked Firth on Friday.

"I know it's kind of a cliché, but a lot of it is heart," Cole Valley senior defensive end Andrew Carlson said. "This is the first group of guys that I've seen from this school that actually want to be here and they actually want to be here in the offseason.

"Most other classes would have said 'It's November, I want to go home.' But we haven't done that, we want to be here."

It's been a rough road to arrive at this year's 9-0 record.

Beglinger reinstated the varsity football program in 2010 after a one-year hiatus, but success was still a ways off.

The Chargers went 1-7 in 2010 and 4-4 in 2011, resulting in back-to-back finishes of second-to-last in league play.

Mike Vanderhoff had seen the Chargers' recent struggles firsthand, serving as a junior varsity coach in 2010 and then as the varsity offensive coordinator beginning in 2011.

With his son, Mason Vanderhoff, projected as the starting quarterback, the elder Vanderhoff stepped forward in 2012 when the head coaching position opened up.

"I saw a lot of potential in the program. It just needed some of the right pieces put in place," Vanderhoff said.

Vanderhoff established his love for football - and passion for coaching - as a receiver at Long Beach State.

He then brought in assistants Dan Reece and Kenny Kuehl to handle the defense. Reese was a strong safety at UC Davis, and Kuehl was an All-American defensive back for Boise State.

Vanderhoff and his staff didn't start with unrealistic expectations. He just wanted his players to find some confidence.

The Chargers did just that in Vanderhoff's first season, compiling a 3-4 overall record, but still finishing last in the conference standings.

"They've learned to compete. They're gaining confidence, and every win is just a little bit more confidence for these kids who really have been pretty deterred on the sport because of the past and what little success they've had," Vanderhoff said.

Among the challenges of playing at Cole Valley is the lack of a home field. The Chargers practice at Settlers Park in Meridian and rent area high school stadiums to host their "home" games.

This season, Cole Valley has played home games at Meridian, Rocky Mountain and Vallivue high schools.

"We just embrace it and we're just excited to have the opportunity to be playing football considering where we were four years ago," Vanderhoff said.

Players have a way of making any venue feel like home.

"I feel like we have a much bigger advantage. We have God on our side," senior receiver/free safety Chase Renfrow said. "He's with us all the time and anywhere He is is home."

Said junior running back Jacob Booker: "Our crowd is probably just as good as any 5A crowd. They're just as loud in my opinion, and they travel better than any school I've ever seen. In our minds, and Coach V always tells us, wherever we play, we've got God there, and that's all we need for our home-field advantage."

Their Christian faith is one of the things that separates the Chargers' approach to football from other schools.

Vanderhoff refers to his players as "gentleman," the team prays after games and practices, and there is an overarching emphasis on putting God ahead of football.

"We're a Christian school, and just because we step on a football field doesn't forgive where we are and what we are doing," Vanderhoff said. "We play for His glory, first and foremost, and after that, when we do have success, we give it to God, and when we don't have success, we give it to God."

Although God is their focus, the Chargers don't deny they have worldly ambitions, including a push toward the team's first state championship.

A win against Firth - which has won four state titles and finished second last season - would be a giant step in the right direction.

Rachel Roberts: 377-6422 Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX

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