As far as Ramsey Lambert is concerned, the Santa Monica High football team should finish with a better record than it did last year.
The coach has high expectations for the Vikings in his first year at the helm, and he’s not going to use the transition or the graduation of last year’s senior class as an excuse.
“No matter what the changes, no matter who you lose, you should improve on the previous season,” he said. “We want to get back to the playoffs and compete at a really high level when we get there.”
Lambert is in charge of a Samohi squad that last year went 5-6 and fell to Torrance-West in the first round of the CIF Southern Section playoffs.
He said the Vikings will aim to contend for an Ocean League title after a challenging nonconference slate with games against several teams that made deep runs in last year’s postseason.
“We’ll be battle-tested by the time league takes shape,” Lambert said.
A game-by-game look at Samohi’s 2015 schedule:
Aug. 28 at Torrance
The Lambert era kicks off with a big opening game against a program that made the playoffs last year. Torrance was 6-5 in 2014, but three of its losses came by nine points combined. The Tartars should be hungry for success after falling apart late in their postseason loss to Oxnard last season.
Sept. 4 vs. Redondo Union
The Vikings’ first home game at Santa Monica College will pit them against a squad that lost just one Bay League duel last year. Redondo Union has also welcomed back longtime coach Gene Simon, who will serve as the team’s offensive coordinator after stepping away from the program a few years ago.
Sept. 18 at Grace Brethren
Samohi will likely need a standout effort for its game in Simi Valley, where it’ll face a Grace Brethren program that appears headed for another stellar campaign after losing in a CIF section final last year. The Lancers are led by Zikel Reddick, who rushed for 2,199 yards and 27 touchdowns in 2014.
Sept. 25 at Valencia
Lambert called Valencia a “machine,” and with good reason. Valencia has won six consecutive conference championships, and it is looking for postseason success after losing in the first round last year. Valencia is led by returning quarterback Cole Parkinson, who threw for 2,725 yards and 26 touchdowns last year.
Oct. 2 vs. Pomona
In this home game, Samohi will get a crack at a defending CIF section champion. The Vikings eked out a 10-8 road win in last year’s meeting thanks to a strong ground game (257 yards), a standout performance by Zach Cooper (182 all-purpose yards and an interception) and a defense that held Pomona scoreless for three quarters.
Oct. 9 at Hawthorne
Will Samohi be able to shut out Hawthorne for the fourth year in a row? In last season’s dominant 41-0 rout at home, the Vikings racked up 427 yards on offense and a whopping 14 sacks on defense. Then-senior Corde Sweets caught two passes for 63 yards and also tallied two interceptions in the victory.
Oct. 16 vs. Lawndale
It’s arguably the most anticipated matchup of 2015 for Samohi, which will face former coach Travis Clark. The Vikings dropped a painful 20-19 decision last year despite standout performances by quarterback Isaiah Johnson (262 yards and two touchdowns) and Sweets (193 receiving yards and two touchdowns). Emotions will likely run high this time around.
Oct. 23 vs. Culver City
Last year’s meeting was hardly a contest for Samohi, which cruised to a 49-0 romp on the road. The Vikings exploded for 634 all-purpose yards, including 128 on four interception returns. Culver City had just 134 rushing and receiving yards combined, but Lambert said the Centaurs are “making some strides” and will be better this season.
Oct. 30 at Beverly Hills
Lambert has seen Beverly Hills twice in person already, and he said the Normans are “ready to battle.” That wasn’t the case last year, when Samohi cruised to an easy 41-0 win with an 11-of-14 performance by Johnson that yielded 297 yards and five touchdowns. Then-senior Genki Yoshida led the Vikings defense with 13 tackles and an interception.
Nov. 6 at El Segundo
Conference play ended sourly for Samohi with a 17-13 home loss in last year’s meeting against El Segundo, which enters the 2015 campaign as the reigning league champion and which Lambert called “a very sound team.” The Vikings led 13-3 at halftime in the 2014 clash but gave up 14 points in the fourth quarter of a defensive battle in which they were tackled for a loss 15 times.