Gillis Champagne Verrado Viper football looks to refuel under new coach

Senior Gillis Champagne throws a pass in a Verrado seven-on-seven passing tournament.

Under new coach Shawn Copeland, things are looking up for Verrado football.

The Vipers lost six of their first seven games last season, and played to a final record of 4-6, the team’s first losing season since 2013.

Copeland, who previously coached at Raymond S. Kellis in Glendale, always appreciated Verrado’s program from afar, and now hopes to get the team back to its winning ways.

“When I moved out here and coached in Glendale, I knew there were some talented kids at Verrado. They have always had pretty high expectations of themselves. So that hasn’t really changed,” Copeland said.

One of the interesting position battles, starting early in the offseason in seven-on-seven passing-only tournaments, is at quarterback.

Senior Gillis Champagne and junior Dillon Hanson are likely the two top competitors for the starting spot this coming season.

The two both appreciate the chance in seven-on-seven play to develop chemistry with the Viper receivers, a group which is also up for question. Verrado was already a run-heavy team with just intermittent passing in 2018, but the team’s top four passing targets graduated in 2018, leaving room for new players to step up.

With a new coach came a new offensive playbook, which Champagne believes will accelerate the passing game’s improvement, based on short, simple routes.

“It’s really kind of simplifying it for everyone. They make quick moves, and we get the ball out of our hands quickly, and let them go,” Champagne said.

Copeland said the receiving game is one of Verrado’s weakest spots.

He is hoping the players work hard and show improvement over the summer months.

“We’ll work on that because we definitely want to throw. But, that’s not the ultimate priority, because if we can defend and run the football, we’ll be in good shape and that other stuff will come along with it,” Copeland said.

That defense could prove one of the team’s biggest strengths this year.

Though the defensive squad, without a pass rush and run defense in passing contests, cannot show its full power, it is clear the unit is ready to play solid together.

Players fly around the field, talk each other up and overall show a lot of energy, and the offensive players have taken notice.

“They’re playing so hard, and they are competing,” Hanson said.

“On offense, that motivates us playing against them in practice, and we’re hoping that can make us try like they do and play better ourselves.”

For now, Verrado will continue playing in passing tournaments and big-man competitions, with weights and other practices completing a long summer schedule.

When the season comes, though, Copeland and the new group of Vipers hope the work pays off.

“We’ve got a long summer ahead of us, and a lot of work to do, but I’m excited,” Copeland said.