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Experienced Portland State football prepares for 2022 season: ‘They love you, love ‘em back a little bit’ logo 8/12/2022 L.C. Norton,
Portland State defensive back Anthony Adams is one of 47 returning letterwinners for the Vikings. © Annie Schutz for/ Schutz for Portland State defensive back Anthony Adams is one of 47 returning letterwinners for the Vikings.

There was an uncharacteristic nip in the air Wednesday as an August breeze rolled through Portland State football’s practice field. Pads were on shoulders, passes thrown by red jerseys were flying through the air and John Mellencamp’s “Jack and Diane” boomed through the field’s sound system.

College football is back in the City of Roses, and as Vikings head coach Bruce Barnum looked out at his team working through drills, he saw a roster with more experience than he’s used to.

Forty-seven letterwinners return from the Vikings’ 2021 team, which makes practices easier for Barnum and his staff. Coaches can push the tempo in scrimmages knowing that the team’s veterans will understand and help the underclassmen learn.

One exception is at quarterback, where, for the first time since 2017, Davis Alexander isn’t around. After throwing for 9,200 yards and 63 touchdowns in 37 starts, Alexander moved on to the professional ranks with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.

“He calls me more than my kids,” Barnum said. “He made life easy at that position for three or four years.”

With 10 quarterbacks on the roster vying to replace Alexander, the Vikings don’t lack options. If Portland State were to play a game tomorrow, sophomore Dante Chachere would start at quarterback, Barnum said.

Aside from experience as a starter, there’s plenty of differences between Chachere and Davis. At 6-foot-3, Chachere is significantly taller than the 6-foot Davis with additional athleticism and speed. But he lacks the arm strength of his predecessor, Barnum said.

“For those that follow the mighty Viks and the Big Sky, you might see the offense meld a little differently,” Barnum said. “As coaches, we have to make sure it fits our personnel.”

On the other side of the ball, Barnum relies on the veteran presences of defensive tackle VJ Malo and cornerback Anthony Adams. The two complement one another on and off the field, Barnum said, with Adams’ businesslike approach contrasting with that of Malo, whose attitude reminds Barnum of the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Steelers of the 1970s.

Despite signing with Portland State in December 2019 out of Golden West College in Huntington Beach, California, Malo had to wait until 2021 to play for the Vikings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He spent that time in his hometown Seattle, where he worked a 9-to-5 job as a delivery driver with Amazon to make ends meet. A year later, he was chasing down quarterbacks and running backs for 10.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss, the most in either category by a Vikings player since 1988.

Standing at 6-1, Malo isn’t the tallest defensive lineman in the conference or on the Vikings’ roster, but said his feel for the game and football intelligence allow him to get past the offensive line. It’s helpful with a guy like Adams, a former AP first team All-American, giving him time from the secondary, Malo said.

“I know for sure that Ant’s gonna do his job, so it’s up to me to do mine,” Malo said.

As a senior, Adams’ list of honors extends beyond that All-American nod in 2019. He receives notifications on his phone when he’s tagged on social media for preseason awards, but said it’s on him to play up to that standard.

No active player at the FCS level has more career pass breakups than Adams, whose 31 breakups and nine interceptions at Portland State leads the nation. Those 31 pass breakups are just two shy of the Vikings’ career record set by Rashad Floyd from 1997-2000.

Despite being named an NFL Draft prospect to watch, Adams said, his focus remains on winning games for the Vikings. He knows winning requires contributions from the entire defense, including Malo on the defensive line.

“It’s a perfect balance,” Adams said. “They’re trying to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands as fast as they can to help us make a play.”

With all of the returning experience on the roster, Barnum said he’s hopeful that fans in Portland will turn out for the Vikings’ home games at Hillsboro Stadium, where he once footed the concessions bill for fans last season.

He’s seen the Vikings march in protests through the city and work around campus in community service, and said he’d love to see Portlanders come together to watch his team play.

“Come watch ‘em,” Barnum said. “They love you, love ‘em back a little bit.”

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