Sports

Vikings stay connected with 'secret weapon' on gridiron

 
Preparing for the coin toss. Photo by Karen Ambrose Hickey.

Its mascot is the Vikings, as always. But Palo Alto High's spirit animal is now the running clock, and its secret weapon is a running back who had never even heard of football until the eighth grade.

It's a new era on the gridiron at Paly, where the Vikings have now equaled their combined win total from the previous two years. The latest to fall was Cupertino on Friday night, 49-0, in a game that wasn't that close.

Leading the way, of course, was quarterback Jackson Chryst, who was six-of-eight for 130 yards and four touchdowns -- two to junior receiver Jamir Shepard.

But as usual for the Vikings, senior running back Aiden Chang also happened.

"Four years ago I would have never guessed I'd be here," said Chang, who wasn't introduced to football -- he really didn't know it existed -- until the eighth grade. His parents had just moved him to California from South Korea, and his new friends at Jordan Middle School convinced him to go out for flag football.

"I tried it and I liked it," Chang said. "My parents also convinced me to try it. I got so used to it that it became my favorite sport."

On Friday, Chang rushed for 168 yards on 12 carries, in only one half. He sat out the second half with his team up 42-0.

Among those stats was an 80-yard scoring run with 4:38 left in the second quarter.

"Aiden is absolutely a model of consistency," said Paly coach Nelson Gifford, who's returning to his alma mater after 20 years "on the road." The Vikings are 6-1 overall after winning only three games each over the previous two seasons.

"He always seems to give us that burst, that change of pace, just when we need it most."

Chang turned to tackle football his freshman year in high school when he blanched at the idea of going out for cross country ("I hate running long distances," he said), and wanted to try something other than soccer.

So now he's outdistancing other runners on the football field.

"When I went out for freshman football, I thought I might be a receiver," said Chang. "But there were 15 guys out for that position and only three running backs.

"Besides, I had a broken finger and couldn't catch the ball."

And so it was written -- Chang became Paly's most reliable varsity running back his sophomore year, and he's still there, leading the Vikings' football resurgence.

His 80-yard run was a designed play in which he swept around the left end, led by four blockers.

"I had the cornerback to beat, and he missed," Chang said. "The rest was up to me."

In addition to hitting Shepard with two scoring passes -- of 13 and 12 yards in the first quarter -- Chryst also scrambled for a 30-yard score early in the second quarter, and hit Paul Thie for two TDs (25 and 55 yards, also in the second quarter).

The first half ended 42-0, and the running clock commenced in the second half.

Paly's Wes Walters took a direct snap and rambled 57 yards for a touchdown late in the third quarter to round out the scoring.

Cupertino didn't get a first down until just before halftime (56 seconds reaming), on a 13-yard run from its own 42.

That was due mainly to defensive linemen Kevin Giffen, and Louis Passarello, and safety Creighton Morgenfeld.

"You can see his (Chang's) growth in football," Gifford said. "He studies film, he analyzes it and asks the critical questions. It's a pleasure to work with a player like that."

It's no surprise that Chang is so intelligent -- his father works for a company in Korea that manufactures and programs robots.

And he flies to the states quite often to see his son play.

On Friday, Aiden spent the second half on the sideline wearing a headset. Was he analyzing plays for the coaches upstairs?

"No, I wasn't," Chang said. "I was talking to my teammates. Just fooling around.

"I had never worn a headset before."

Four years into football, and still trying everything.

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