A new head coach. New offensive coordinator. New defensive coordinator. New quarterback.
While so much is new around the Salado football program, Brent Graham hopes to return the Eagles to an old tradition.
Winning football games.
With a quick-paced offense and attacking defense, the Eagles might do just that this year, although Salado plays in what is inarguably the toughest 2A football district in the state.
Prior to district, though, the Eagles will face three very tough 3A teams, starting off on the road against the Rockdale Tigers Aug. 30.
The Tigers are picked by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine as the second place team in District 18-3A behind the defending state champion Navasota Rattlers.
“We have a challenge on our hands right out of the box,” Coach Graham said. “They have two extremely gifted players who have already committed to Baylor.”
James David is an all-state linebacker returning to Rockdale after a knee injury. He had 118 tackles last year despite the injury.
Josh Pelzel, at 6’6” and 315 lbs., may be the biggest challenge the Eagles see all season, on both sides of the ball.
“We’re going to try to neutralize those guys,” Graham said, adding that the Tigers have talent and experience beyond those two players.
After that, Salado will stay on the road to face Lorena, picked to win District 17-3A and China Spring for the first home game on Sept. 13. China Spring is picked as the fourth place team from District 17-3A in the preseason poll by Campbell, whose Texas Football magazine is considered by many to be the “bible of Texas high school football.”
To face these challenges, Coach Graham has brought in new coaches and moved a new player into the starting quarterback position.
Forrest Mazey takes the reins as offensive coordinator, heading up the no huddle, fast paced offense.
McLane Carter has moved in from Gilmer and the junior will take over as quarterback for Salado.
“He has a good knowledge base of the position,” Graham said, “and we have started to create team chemistry with him there.”
Ryan Simmons moves to running back, where Graham said he intends to put the senior in places where the Eagles can take advantage of his crafty running style.
“We want to get him into space,” Graham said. “We want to create some mismatch opportunities for him.”
“He is a warrior,” Graham said. “He is an elusive, slashing runner. He doesn’t go down easy. He will get tough yards. He will stick he foot in the ground to find vertical creases and get yards for us.”
Carter will also have opportunities with a receiving corps that includes Jacob Little, Kase Spears and Jacob Quick at the receiver positions.
The offensive line will be anchored by Jakob Popple at center, Peyton Womack and Ryan Bradley at guards, Keaton Fillip and James Collins at the tackle positions.
Marcos Garcia will bring a new defensive scheme for the Eagles. Salado will play an odd front defense.
Zachary Marsh will play nose guard with Jace Habiger and James Robison at defensive ends.
McLane Matthews, Hayden Ebeling, Clayton Cole and Simmons will be linebackers.
Jake Bloomer and Jack Riley will be corner backs.
Caden Eary will be the weak-side safety and Davis Little will be free safety.
During the scrimmage with Gatesville, the defense allowed two scores, none during the live quarter of play.
“We saw some really good things in our last scrimmage,” Graham said. “We are beginning to come into a rhythm as a team.”
The offense scored six times, including two scores during the live quarter of play.
“Our goal is ultimately the third season,” Graham said. “We want to get out of district and make the playoffs this year.”
It might be a little easier to make the playoffs as UIL allows four teams from each district to go to the playoffs, eliminating a bye week for the first place team.
“Some might say it waters down the playoffs,” Graham said, “but you definitely have to have a top class team to make it all the way to state.”
District 13AA is rife with competition and top notch teams.
First, it has the defending state champions in Cameron Yoe, which come to town the first week of district play on Sept. 13.
The Yoe return six starters on each side of the ball, including all-state quarterback Jason Kopriva and defensive player of the year Somari Wright at linebacker.
The final two weeks of district play will pit the Eagles against the second and third place teams in 13AA last year: McGregor and Lago Vista.
McGregor finished the season 9-2 after being ousted in the first round of the playoffs by Hempstead 47-14. Lago Vista, coached by Salado alum and former SHS coach Alan Haire, lost to the Yoe in the Region semi-finals 31-7.
“This is a tough, tough football district,” Graham said, “from top to bottom.”
But, he adds, “If you want to be the best, you have to play against and beat the best.”
“We want to be the best.”