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The Vikings are arriving ahead of schedule
Dante Chachere's development at quarterback paired with young depth has the Vikings sitting confident at the season's midway point.
PORTLAND — Here’s a little secret: Football coaches look ahead.
Despite the next rep, next practice, next game, next opponent mentality, coaches do a lot of the same things fans do. They’ll look at the schedule. They’ll look at the roster. They’ll begin to forecast.
For instance, Portland State coach Bruce Barnum really liked his team coming into the 2023 season. But if you were to ask him truthfully, he’d tell you 2024 was really the aim.
By then, the Vikings No. 3 recruiting class from 2023 would have a year to develop, and quarterback Dante Chachere would be a senior with another year under his belt as a starter.
But the thing about football is even when looking ahead, you still have to play what’s in front. And right now, the Vikings are doing a deft job of doing just that.
Portland State is 2-1 in Big Sky Conference play and fresh off a 45-21 road win over Northern Arizona, a game where Chachere’s six touchdowns earned him Big Sky Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors. Chachere was 14-of-19 for 149 yards and five passing touchdowns and rushed the ball 12 times for 83 yards and another score. He’s leading the Big Sky with 11 touchdown passes. His six rushing scores are the third-most in the conference and his command of Portland State’s offense — the No. 2 scoring offense in the Big Sky — has Barnum slowly reevaluating expectations.
“I told him that if he gets us to the playoffs this year I’ll get him an NIL deal,” Barnum said. “I told him I know we’ll be in the playoffs next year, but if you get me there this year, I’ll get it done for you.”
Chachere was a freshman in high school in Fresno, Calif., the last time Barnum and Portland State made the playoffs. And while the Vikings may be arriving here ahead of schedule, it’s the unexpected blend of Chachere’s experience with PSU’s youth movement that’s getting them there.
First of all: nobody in the Big Sky expected Chachere to be doing this. And he’ll tell you that’s not an exaggeration. All of the recruiting websites listed him as a two-star “athlete” — not a quarterback — coming out of Clovis West High School. He could run. He could move. But outside of Barnum, everyone else projected him as a receiver, or a player who maybe should move over to defense, where is brother, Andre, plays in the NFL as a safety for Arizona.
“I’ve always been able to run the ball as well as anyone,” Chachere said. “And you know, they’ve knocked the passing, but I believe in myself and I believe in my passing and I’m using that as fuel.”
Said Barnum: “Nobody else wanted him at quarterback. He’s still got a hitch in his get along for that, that got up his craw a little bit. Everybody we play, he checks their coaching staff to see if they have anyone that talked to him when he was in high school that said they just wanted him as a receiver.”
Now, it’s not that Barnum believed Chachere to be the second coming of Patrick Mahomes. He saw an athlete who “moves like a gazelle” and had enough potential to fit his system. He played in six games as a backup in 2021 and was used primarily as a runner before becoming PSU’s full-time starter in 2022.
“He’s becoming a quarterback,” Barnum said. “He’s seeing the field and it’s slowing down for him. He’s not a drop back guy, but where he’s at right now he could be if somebody would spend some time with him and put him in the right program where he’s developing more than mine. I mean, I’m feeding him red beans and rice and brisket trying to get him to 215 (pounds).”
But it’s not just Chachere. Barnum said he began to get a good feeling this year when he started to see the bodies of this year’s recruiting class walking around the Park Blocks. The Vikings brought in a freshman class with players ready to compete immediately. True freshman linebacker Michael Montgomery leads the team in tackles. True freshman Zach Wusstig started against Wyoming at safety. And following a season-ending injury to senior guard Shiloh Ta’ase, 6-foot-3, 305-pound true freshman Isaac Perez will be Barnum’s starter the rest of the way.
Perez made his debut as a starter in Portland State’s 38-22 loss at No. 3 Montana State, a memory that still has Barnum chuckling. Bozeman is no easy debut for a rookie, and when Perez whiffed on his first two blocks and came back to the sideline following a three-and-out, Barnum stopped by for some friendly advice.
“He’s on the bench, wide-eyed, and I go, ‘How was that?’ And he says, ‘Fast,’” Barnum said. “I said, ‘Listen son, I gave you that series to get ready for it. But I need you to pick it up a little bit.
“Then it was off to the races.”
Of course, in today’s college football there’s always the worry of a player being too good, too early for a FCS school like Barnum’s. Seeing Perez’s frame at practice on Wednesday, the Corona, Calif., native definitely has the mold of an FBS lineman and it wouldn’t be a shock if he ends up drawing some transfer interest down the road.
Still, Barnum highlights the fact that he’s here in the first place.
“I saw Perez on film and when we got him I was surprised,” he said. “Look, my guys work hard. My assistants work hard. But what you saw is you saw the portal and the NIL giving the advantage to me. (FBS schools) are taking other people. Not as many high school kids are being taken. There’s a panic right now with high school coaches. I think Tyson should be a Mountain West guy, but nobody wants him. Those guys are out there, but guys are spending their scholarships on a guy at USC, a guy at Georgia. That’s where their money is going. So I’m getting the freshmen.
“Now, I’m not stupid. I’m not naive. I know that they’ll come shopping if I get a Jerry Rice. Oregon State’s already done it. They poached me for their second team. They’re getting my guys for their second team. So I know that’s going to come, but I’ll keep recruiting.”
Recruiting — and winning football games. The Vikings picked up a vote in this week’s FCS top 25 voting and have consecutive home games in Hillsboro beginning this weekend with Idaho State.
Asked if anyone on that staff ever recruited him, Chachere laughed and said he’s not sure. He is pretty sure, however, that Barnum will be able follow through on his promise if he keeps leading the Vikings into unexpected territory here in 2023.
“If it comes it comes,” Chachere said. “But being here in downtown Portland, I’m sure there’s some stuff they would want.”
— Tyson Alger, The I-5 Corridor
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