By Justin Sampson (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
The Salem Tigers enter the fall with a fresh leadership change for the second straight year. Former head coach Dylan Wyrick resigned the position after one season to take the head job at Potosi High School at the end of May.
That left the door open for Lane Howard to be named interim head coach less than a month later. Howard is a Salem alumnus who played under hall of fame coach Bill Schuchardt. Despite the shift coming so close to the start of summer camps, Howard has embraced it. He has been on the Salem staff for four years and is very familiar with how the players and community take to the sport.
“The transition was smooth as far as already knowing the kids and program,” he said. “We have been putting in the same amount of work as before and treating things like business as usual.”
The Tigers only need to replace two linemen, a linebacker, and a tight end from last year’s 7-4 team. With such familiarity back this fall, Howard will largely keep the same base schemes that Salem has used, including two-back power sets on offense and a 4-2-5 look on defense.
Brenden Smith, the leading tackler for 2019, is out the door, so seniors Earl Jarvis (defensive line), Brandon White (defensive line), Dawson Mock (cornerback), and Caden Camden (safety, First Team All-SCA selection) will be tasked with leading the defense. Camden is tops among returners with 58 tackles, three fumble recoveries, and one defensive touchdown from a season ago.
“Our system is simple, but effective, and kids understand that. At the end of the day, it comes down to them doing their jobs. We want to force offenses into the position we want them to be in and let other guys make the tackles. We are preaching selflessness in that regard.”
Junior Garrett Connell is also back to contribute on defense after picking off three passes and notching 57 tackles. He returns to his spot under center as well, having asserted himself as a team leader as an underclassmen last fall. He threw for 1,047 yards and 11 touchdowns to go with another four scores on the ground.
Camden brings the team lead in rushing yards to his senior campaign after compiling 1,150 yards with seven touchdowns last fall. Mock also returns with his own team lead in receiving yards after catching 28 passes for 560 yards and five scores. That earned him Second Team All-SCA honors.
“We have good athletes in the backfield, so we are looking at ways to utilize all aspects of our system,” said Howard. “We want to allow them to get out in space and be successful.”
While Howard believes that staff can put weapons in positions to break big plays, doing it consistently through all four quarters is something they want to improve.
“We didn’t do a great job of sustaining drives last year. That led to some close games that, while we were still able to win, were closer than they should have been. We are working on perfecting our execution.”
Overall, the Tigers are familiar with each other and what they have to do to make their system work. Having a head coach ingrained in the community reinforces that understanding across the board. How well the players can capitalize on their offseason improvement will determine their success this year.
“I think winning seven games last year shocked a lot of people. Having that success to build off could help us go deeper into districts. We’re trying to get to that championship and a conference championship, obviously. We play smaller schools, but it’s a tough schedule.”
Salem is scheduled to open the season on Aug. 28 against Saint James.