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A dry brunch with the Portland State Vikings
A 10:30 a.m. spring game on a Friday? Count us in.
HILLSBORO — The Weeknd is playing.
It is assuredly not the weekend, not at least here at 11 a.m. in Hillsboro. But for some reason Portland State’s spring game is today, a weekday, and ends right around lunch.
Yet… there’s maybe 200 people here to watch the Vikings, and so far they’ve been serenaded to a Bruce Barnum-approved playlist including the likes of Abba, Billy Joel, CCR, Missy Elliot’s “Get your freak on” and now The Weeknd’s “Blinded by the Lights.” The volume varies song-to-song like a shower with an old water heater, but hell, people seem to be having a blast.
It certainly helps that this might be the first dry day in the city since Barnum was named head coach back in 2015.
And his team is actually looking pretty good. Look, Barnum’s optimistic just about every spring, then the reality of the fall where the Vikings get beat up in a pair of FBS money games before conference play even begins sets in. This year, Portland State gets to open at Autzen Stadium against Oregon before flying out to Wyoming, and Barnum’s just hoping that his quarterback’s new diet can get him through the gauntlet.
See, Barnum’s got a good one. Dante Chachere, a 6-foot-3 junior out of Fresno, might be the best athlete he’s had at the position in his eight seasons here. Chachere started all 11 games for Portland State in 2022, passed for 1,956 yards, 19 touchdowns, eight interceptions and led the team with 609 yards on the ground. But at 172 pounds, he was banged up all the time.
“Every damn week,” says Barnum, outlining the process of wrapping his dual-threat QB in kevlar and hoping he’d get back to the sideline in one piece.
But today, Chachere looks pretty built out there. Barnum says he’s up to 196 pounds after an offseason of eating red beans, rice and brisket — and as I was walking to my seat he connected with Semaj Bolin for a 62-yard touchdown on the second play from scrimmage.
Chachere looks confident out there, the Vikings have a pretty dynamic running back in redshirt freshman Quincy Craig out of Mater Dei, and Barnum full on intends on taking a look at the transfer portal in the coming weeks with his eyes set on the defensive line.
Portland State won just four games last year and the program has often felt stalled thanks in part to a campus without a football stadium. But after signing the No. 3 class in the FCS in February followed by the hiring of AC Patterson as offensive coordinator, the Vikings for once have a bit of momentum. And you can see that on the field, especially in Chachere as he calmly navigates the RPOs, screens and throws this offense requires.
“You try and get the game to slow down for him and it finally did,” Barnum says.
Adds Chachere: “We’ve just come together so much that it’s like backyard football.”
Bit of a backyard atmosphere here, too. Portland State staff are getting the grills going across the parking lot for a BBQ they’re having between this game and the softball double-header starting at 2 p.m.and I'd venture 90 percent of this crowd is made up of parents and relatives.
I chatted a bit earlier in the stands with the mom of kicker Gianni Smith, who used to be an all-county quarterback at California’s Oak Park High School before realizing he had the leg to go to college. He came up to Portland for a tryout in 2021, Barnum offered him a scholarship and he’s hit 10-of-14 field goals and 66-of-67 extra points in the two years since.
Lisa Smith is just happy he’s not playing a position where he gets hit in the head anymore. And hey, today kickers are getting more action than anyone. For much of the second half of this scrimmage, Barnum’s been having the kickers go back-and-forth on field goal attempts, increasing the distance by 5-yards with each make.
Smith hit the longest at 55 yards. And as the game ends, Portland State sports information director Mike Lund jokes to Barnum about setting a record for most kick attempts in the spring game.
“That was a critical moment there on that 14th kick,” Barnum jokes. “But he did jump offsides, and in that situation it’s very noticeable because nobody is in front of you and you’re the only guy on the field.
“So we got that fixed and that’s what spring is for.”
— Tyson Alger
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I’ll admit, I didn’t know the Vikings had softball. Or that they’re good! Big Sky Tournament champions 2021, baby!