SALADO — A week into his first season as head coach at Salado, Brent Graham won’t be writing anybody’s name in permanent marker on his depth chart.
Sure, there are certain players he expects to be on varsity, but he’s not restricting anybody by to a particular role just yet. At least not until he sees how they do in pads.
“It’s a clean slate,” Graham said. “Regardless of what’s taken place in the past — we’re going to take into consideration who has experience — but at this point it’s really about what we’re doing today and what we’re doing tomorrow that counts.”
Today marks the first day programs from 3A and below, including 2A Salado, can put on pads and participate in full-contact practices after UIL-mandated four days of non-contact conditioning.
“Being in shorts and shirts it’s really hard to get a real evaluation of players ... really identifying personnel is hard until you put pads on,” Graham said.
“I think every snap (with pads) is going to be a true evaluation for these kids, every snap is going to count, and that’s something for our kids to really look forward to, really embrace that opportunity.”
That clean slate has opened the door for several former players to return to the gridiron after not playing last season, including (point) guard-turned-receiver Kase Spears.
“A lot of kids have said that ‘We’ve learned more football watching film this week then we have our entire careers,’” said Spears, who was on junior varsity his first two years of high school but opted to focus on basketball last year.
Salado, which struggled to 2-7 last season, returns only six to seven starters combined on both sides of the ball, including senior quarterback-turned-halfback Ryan Simmons, kicker/running back Chase Crenwelge and linebacker/fullback Clayton Cole, among others.
Among the new faces are Spears and fellow senior receiver/defensive back Caden Eary, who played basketball and baseball almost exclusively the last several years but came out to football this summer after Graham was hired in March.
“Kase did a lot of great things this summer, he’s an incredibly-gifted basketball player in my mind,” Graham said of the Eagles’ starting point guard on last season’s region semifinalist team. “When he gets out there, he’s a guy we like to see with the ball in his hands.”
Graham also gushed about Eary, who played an integral role in the Salado baseball team’s run to the 2A state tournament as the team’s primary center fielder and backup infielder last season.
He’ll now bring that versatility to the gridiron. The one sure thing is Simmons, who will widen his offensive role after exclusively seeing time at quarterback last season. Simmons combined for 1,962 total yards of offense (688 rushing and 1,274 passing) and 19 touchdowns despite missing several games with injuries.
But with the arrival of junior transfer McLane Carter, who’s family moved from Gilmer before the summer, Simmons — who broke his throwing hand during the summer 7-on-7 season — will be asked to do more things like running with the ball and catching it out of the backfield.
“Anytime there’s change involved, when you’re new to something, I think it takes a little time to (adjust), but the summer was good, spring was good for him to get acclimated,” Graham said of Carter.
Last season as the backup at Gilmer, Carter was a perfect 1-for-1 passing with a 31-yard touchdown strike as his only completion on the season. He’s expected to see a lot more playing time this season with the Graham-led Eagles.
Last season, Salado had the third-best pass offense in District 13-2A, but only averaged 150 yards per game through the air. But it also gave up about 150 yards passing on defense.
That’s where senior defensive back Davis Little comes in. Converted from back-up quarterback and cornerback last season, Little is taking over at free safety where he’s helping institute Graham’s fly-to-the-football defensive approach he brings after spending the last four years as the defensive coordinator at 4A Sherman.
“We’re taking it day by day, rep by rep trying to get better one snap at a time. ... There’s an extreme attention to detail,” he said.
Especially when it comes to spots on the depth chart.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Graham said, “we’re just chipping off the edge of the iceberg really.”