By Alex Byington

Killeen Daily Herald

SALADO — Amid the grunts and clanging of metal bars as 30-plus players rotated at a feverish pace amongst the cramped Salado weight room, three words rang out: "For the program."

It may not be an official slogan, at least not yet, but it's the team-first philosophy that inspired those words that has the Salado Eagles believing this will be their year.

"We've always talked about how you're going to sacrifice, you're going to hurt and put some blood and sweat into it, but it's all about sacrificing for the team and trying to make the program better so that we can win as a team," said junior quarterback Ryan Simmons.

Spending 20 seconds at each station, which can include anything from pushups and pull-ups to curls and lunges, the entire Salado varsity went through the high-intensity, rapid-paced weight circuit following a 2½-hour practice Wednesday morning, the third day of preseason camp.

"It's not chaos, because it's organized, but it's just bust it and get as many reps as you can (in those 20 seconds) in whatever modality you're on, whether it's pull-ups or curls or whatever," said Eagles head coach and athletic director Glenn Talbott. "It's intense, it's brutal. I'm not going to lie, it's brutal."

Forced to fight through the pain of their already-tired bodies, the players believe it's their sacrificing that will ultimately pay off in a return to the postseason after managing a combined six wins over the last two seasons.

"It's pretty rough," Simmons said, still a bit exasperated after practice. "I've been working out this summer, but there's not a whole lot you can do to prepare for that circuit in there — it's really tough."

Returning to the more comfortable confines of Class 2A following a two-year deluge through 3A, the Eagles are confident despite some internal upheaval with its roster and coaching staff.

The give-it-all-for-the-team approach has even permeated amongst the coaches, where Talbott has taken on even more responsibility as the Eagles' new defensive coordinator/secondary coach.

Prior to getting promoted to the head coaching job in July 2010, Talbott was Salado's defensive coordinator for the previous four seasons.

"Most of the time you see the head coaches just standing around and there's not a lot of teaching (going on)," senior defensive back Marshall Mann said. "(Coach) Talbott is teaching and always trying to make everybody better, and pushing you to be the best you can be."

Wednesday was the first time this week Talbott was able to get away from some of his defensive responsibilities to see first-hand how his revamped offense is progressing following the defections and graduation of a majority of last season's production.

"I love being out there, hands-on," Talbott said. "But it is nice every once in a while to be able to travel (between the different units). Now I can focus and it gives me some energy that I really can put into this team."

Simmons is one of several players who are being asked to be "the guy" after last year's starting quarterback, Mike Richardson, transferred to Marble Falls in the offseason. Simmons, though, isn't unaccustomed to varsity competition, often used as the change-of-pace, run-first option under center last season.

This year, though, like many of his teammates, Simmons knows if the Eagles are going to return to the playoff promised land, the onus is on their shoulders to get it done.

"It's like what (new offensive coordinator Sul) Ross said earlier out on the field. He said, 'We're here to try to get you guys into it, but we can't do it. You're the guys that are going to be on the field on Friday nights,' So we're going to have to do it ourselves and mentally get pumped up ourselves," Simmons said.

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