Valhalla: Gurley supplies Tarboro with new gear

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Tarboro defensive coordinator Andrew Harding, left, teaches Ja'viyes Massenburg how to adjust the chin strap on his new Riddell SpeedFlex helmet on Friday at Tarboro High School.


Sports Writer

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Not long after Tarboro High unveiled signage earlier this year outside of its football stadium honoring former player and current NFL player Todd Gurley II, the All-Pro running gave back to the program.

Gurley paid for the team to purchase new home and away uniforms. He didn’t stop there. Gurley also used his connections with Riddell — a football helmet and equipment company — to hook up the Vikings with state-of-the-art gear.

In all, Gurley purchased the program 30 new helmets and 15 sets of shoulder pads. The team will also receive protein bars and thirst-quenching chews from Gatorade, a perk from Gurley’s endorsement deals.

“The first look I got at those helmets and I thought, ‘Wow, Gurley hooked it up big time,’” senior Jyron Albritton said.

The helmets are of quality that top college football programs use. One of the best features of the new headgear, said Albritton, is a ratchet-style chin straps used to tighten or loosen, instead of a clunky button snap that was often unreliable.

The shoulder pads, too, are a marked upgrade. Form fitting, the pads are lightweight and sleek.

“They fit great,” senior Kendarus Jenkins said of the pads. “They’re so light you don’t even realize you’re wearing them. The older ones are heavier, but these you can’t even feel. We might be faster out there now.”

A scary thought for Vikings opponents.

Gurley has always kept in contact with the Tarboro coaching staff, a group that guided the team to a trio of state titles with the talented athlete. He has returned each summer to host free football camps for local kids, and has returned several times to speak to teams.

This offseason, Gurley signed a four-year, $60 million contract extension to stay with the Rams. The deal includes $45 million guaranteed. And he has proven to be generous with his money, never forgetting about his small hometown.

“He takes good care of us,” coach Jeff Craddock said of Gurley. “He said, ‘Get what you want, Coach.’ So I said all right, let’s do some shopping.”

The jerseys have been in since the summer, and the team wore them in two wins so far this season. This past Friday, a 48-0 home win against Washington, was the first time the Vikings players were able to use the new helmets and pads.

If you saw the Vikings play on opening night and wondered why they played in solid purple helmets with no horns, that’s why. The shipment hadn’t arrived in time for Week 1.

The equipment arrived Thursday, and Craddock spent Friday afternoon helping to get players fitted into their new gear. Most of the work was done by the players, trying on various helmet sizes and making sure the right shoulder pads were in place. But Craddock spent the bulk of the time placing the white horns decal on both sides of the helmets.

Craddock said he has placed every horn on every helmet since 1997.

“I’d like to know how many horns that is,” Craddock cracked.

What is new this year, aside from fresh equipment, is a sticker than can be found just above the facemask. The words ‘Valhalla’ were placed on each helmet in reference to the team’s new motto.

Craddock and his staff attended a football conference a few years ago and noticed a team from Florida would yell ‘Hoka Hey,’ a war cry from Native American origins.

“It became their rallying cry whenever they saw each other,” Craddock said. “Nobody really knew what it meant outside of their team. It was their thing. So I was like, I like this idea, but I didn’t know what we could get.”

Defensive coordinator Andrew Harding went to work and did research about the real Vikings, in search of a rallying cry, or message, that the Tarboro football could pillage for its own use.

Harding came back with ‘Valhalla.’ It is derived from old Viking lore where Valhalla is a heaven where warriors would go after suffering an honorable death in battle.

While Craddock knows football isn’t a life or death game, he does want to use the message that it carries — a sense of teamwork and sacrifice for those teammates above all else.

“Football is a team game. You have to self-sacrifice your own interests for the team and so we put that there this year,” Craddock said. “It’s about promoting team and self sacrifice. It’s a reminder in practice, when you’re in games in the huddle and you’re looking at each other, you’re reminded of the bigger goal.

“It’s cool, because when people see it they will be like what does that even mean?”

Valhalla has some more legs than just a helmet decal. Craddock has visions of someday incorporating that into a sign outside of the stadium. Picture this: Valhalla written in eerie letters, with skulls denoting all of the wins Tarboro has secured on its home field. With each victory, another skull goes up.

“Just always trying to find something different to hang your hat on,” Craddock said.

Even for a team with five state championships, several NFL players among its alumni, and a solid foundation of culture and hard work, the Vikings show that there is never a reason to stop trying to grow and improve.