Valley Christian High needed very little time to establish itself as one of the top small-school football programs in the East Bay.

In just its fifth year of fielding a varsity team, the private school in Dublin will compete for a section championship for the first time. The Vikings play Salesian at 7 p.m. Saturday at Chabot College for the North Coast Section Division V title.

"We may not have the greatest 11 athletes out there," coach Jim Heal said. "But year in and year out, we seem to have guys on offense, defense and special teams that really want to play and take instruction well and execute well."

Postseason football is nothing new to the Vikings. They've made the NCS playoffs every year of their varsity existence.

But this year was a little different. For one, it was their first season without former NFL lineman John Parrella, who helped launch the program and served as head coach.

And when playoffs rolled around, they were competing with schools their own size. Up until this year, Valley Christian had competed up in the Division IV bracket rather than Division V, where the school of less than 300 students fits naturally.

Part of the reason Valley Christian petitioned up to Division IV, Heal said, was to be eligible for the state and regional playoffs. Now that the California Interscholastic Federation has altered its guidelines, the Vikings still can qualify for the small-school regional game with a Division V section championship.


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They may need some help to continue their season past this weekend, though. Besides beating Salesian, they'll likely need either McClymonds or Central Catholic-Modesto, the defending small-school state champion, to lose in their section championships.

Valley Christian (9-3) lost to McClymonds 44-22 in September, and the Warriors have a loss to Central Catholic, meaning the Vikings are behind at least those two teams in the pecking order. On Friday, McClymonds plays Oakland in the Silver Bowl -- the Oakland Section championship game -- and Central Catholic plays Ripon in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV semifinals.

"That's completely out of our control," Heal said of his team's chances to move on. "We need to win NCS to get ourselves in position, and we feel like if we take care of business we should at least draw some consideration."

When they go up against Salesian for a second time this season, the Vikings will rely on their strong offensive and defensive lines along with offensive weapons Theman Taylor III and Vince Volpatti.

"They're our leaders on and off the field," Heal said of Taylor and Volpatti. "Our quarterback (Taylor) is an excellent athlete. Vince is a warrior on offense, defense and special teams and is clearly one of our leaders. He's averaging nine yards a carry and flies around on defense."

Salesian and Valley Christian will be playing for a fifth time in the past three seasons, with the Vikings having won the past two meetings.

Calhoun ready for ASU, rematch: Taking advantage of a new NCAA rule interpretation, El Cerrito's D.J. Calhoun signed scholarship papers with Arizona State last week.

Because he's on track to graduate early, the four-star linebacker was able to sign financial aid papers before the regular signing period begins in February.

Under the new regulations, Arizona State is obligated to honor its scholarship offer to Calhoun, but the paperwork isn't the same as a letter of intent. Calhoun doesn't enter into a binding agreement but has no intention of changing his plans.

Calhoun originally had committed to USC but flipped to Arizona State after he took an official visit to the desert and the Trojans fired coach Lane Kiffin. He'll graduate from El Cerrito in January, then enroll early at Arizona State so he can participate in spring practices.

But before college, he's focused on finishing out his high school career on a high note.

On Friday, El Cerrito faces Campolindo in the NCS Division III semifinals. It's a rematch of a Sept. 20 nonleague game that Campolindo won 42-27.

Calhoun played sparingly in the first meeting while dealing with a shoulder injury that limited him for about a month.

"I was injured," Calhoun said. "Our heads weren't right. Now our team is a whole different team, and we're out for revenge."

The injury situation also has changed for Campolindo. Senior receiver Philip Rei, who had seven catches for 164 yards and three touchdowns against El Cerrito, is out with a knee injury.

MIXON UP FOR NATIONAL AWARD: Freedom running back Joe Mixon is one of six finalists for U.S. Army national player of the year.

The senior with more than 50 college offers tallied 1,704 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns in 11 games during his senior season while playing behind a new offensive line.

Mixon finished his three-year varsity career with 4,281 rushing yards and 76 touchdowns, including 470 yards and nine touchdowns in two NCS playoff games this month before Freedom was eliminated with a 27-21 loss to Pittsburg in last Friday's Division I quarterfinals.

Other finalists in the running for the Army award, which honors the most outstanding high school senior football player in the country, are running back Nick Chubb (Cedartown High-Georgia), quarterback Will Grier (Davidson Day-North Carolina), running back Elijah Hood (Charlotte Christian-North Carolina), defensive back Marshon Lattimore (Glenville-Cleveland) and wide receiver Trey Quinn (Barbe-Lake Charles, Louisiana).

The player of the year will be announced during an awards show on Jan. 3 in San Antonio, a day before the Army All-American game at the Alamodome. Mixon plans to announce his college choice during the Army All-American game.

NCS CHAMPIONSHIP SITES: The NCS Division I championship game is set for 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 7 at Dublin High, but locations and dates for the other divisions will depend on the outcomes of this weekend's semifinals.

The Division II final likely will be played at Rancho Cotate High in Rohnert Park if top-seeded Casa Grande-Petaluma wins its semifinal. If the Gauchos lose, the game will be at Diablo Valley College.

The Division III championship could also be at DVC, but only if Campolindo beats El Cerrito and Analy knocks off top-seeded Marin Catholic. If either Marin Catholic or El Cerrito advance, the final will be at San Leandro's Burrell Field on Friday, Dec. 6.

Follow Stephanie Hammon at twitter.com/stephhammon.