Senior running back Caleb Gray has good reason to be excited about the regular season starting this week after sitting out much of last fall with three second-degree torn ligaments in his right shoulder.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Gray said his shoulder feels 100 percent and he's ready to go.
The tailback will be expected to replace some of the offensive production lost from last year's Scott City squad, as the Rams graduated their top three backs — Cody Carlyle, Chris Blankenship and Trey Schlosser. The trio combined to rush for 1,308 yards.
The Rams graduated 11 seniors, all starters, off the 2007 squad that finished 6-4.
Although the Rams have some positions to fill, senior quarterback Cody Page said the team should be fine at running back with Gray back there taking handoffs.
"Caleb Gray, he's pretty darn important," Page said. "He comes in and gives a lot of speed to our offense. ... He's the most experienced running back we have."
Senior wide receiver Austin Brawley has been impressed with Gray, who he said runs the football a lot like Blankenship did last year.
"Gray has a good amount of speed, and if he wants to, he can make contact and run somebody over at any given time," Brawley said.
Scott City second-year coach Ronnie Jones said Gray has some extra padding on the shoulder and that the shoulder will be watched carefully throughout the season.
Seniors Josh Trapp, Matt Bradley and Jake Campbell likely will all play some fullback. Sophomores Alex Eichhorn and Hunter Griffith also could receive some handoffs.
"We're going to have to establish our run," Jones said. "There's no doubt about that. But right now the main priority is trying to get an offensive line that's pretty coherent. And what I mean by that is that they work together well. In a school like this, there is just not a whole lot of depth in some of the areas."
Although Gray sat out much of last season, he did receive some valuable experience when he returned, starting the final three games, all district contests.
He was penciled into the starting lineup because of late injuries to Blankenship and Schlosser.
Gray injured the shoulder during a preseason practice last fall. It happened while he was on the scout-team offense running against the first-team defense. He missed the first five weeks of the regular season then did not play much on varsity until week eight.
Brawley said he knew the running game would be in good shape this fall when he saw Gray run the ball toward the end of last season.
"Last game of the season against St. Pius, the first play off scrimmage, Caleb takes off around the bend for a 60-yard touchdown," Brawley said. "Right then, I knew next year he could be a big impact on our team with his speed."
Gray clearly remembers sprinting for the touchdown, his second in three games.
"It felt great," Gray said. "It felt like something just got off my back and I was like, 'Thank God.'"
Gray said the season was just getting started for him at the end of last year, so he's been waiting for this season to start since last November.
Starting three games was helpful because it not only allowed him to gain varsity experience, but also assured him that his shoulder was fine.
"It kind of helped me out to get back in the game and see what my shoulder could do," Gray said. "And it took it well, and I got a lot of experience out of it, too. Truly I can't wait [for this season]. I got a lot of experience and can't wait to show it off."
Trapp and Bradley are powerful runners who add depth to the Rams' backfield.
"[Trapp] runs the ball hard, gets low and he'll run you over," Brawley said. "Matt Bradley will, too. And Jake Campbell has not played football since the eighth grade, but he's getting a lot better now. I think we can give him some carries and rely on him."
Jones said the Rams typically would run two backs in the backfield, but occasionally might go with either a naked set or a one-back set. He said his team would line up in the I-formation and run a split backfield, too.
Senior Adam Nesbit (5-9, 215 pounds) will play center. Jones said Nesbit could have started last year, but did not because of seniors ahead of him.
Senior Jaris Hye (5-10, 220 pounds) and junior Rex Howard (5-10, 270) return as guards.
Senior Ethan Weatherspoon (6-5, 230 pounds) will play some offensive line.
"We have some holes to plug," Jones said. "There's not doubt about that."
Page will take over the quarterback position after playing just linebacker, where he received all-region, all-district and all-conference honors last year.
He replaces Caleb Estes, who completed 36 of 83 passes for 549 yards as a senior last year.
"First day of camp we came out and I didn't expect it at all," Page said. "And coach just called me over and said, 'Start taking snaps.'
"I started out a little shaky, but the confidence is coming."
Jones said he decided to convert Page to quarterback because he is intelligent, players respect him and he has a strong arm.
Page, a member of the 2008 Scott City Class 2 state championship baseball team, should have some strong options to throw to in tight end Clayton Hall, Page's cousin, and Brawley, a wide receiver who also started last fall.
"Cody has his good days and his bad days," Brawley said. "But usually he does pretty well."
vs. East PrairieW37-7
at Crystal CityL14-0
at Festus St. PiusW34-13
Aug. 29Malden7 p.m.
Sept. 5Portageville7 p.m.
Sept. 12at East Prairie7 p.m.
Sept. 19at Fredericktown7 p.m.
Sept. 26Chaffee7 p.m.
Oct. 10Hayti7 p.m.
Oct. 17at Grandview7 p.m.
Oct. 24Crystal City7 p.m.
Oct. 30Festus St. Pius7 p.m.
The decade so far
20Ben De Los SantosRB/DB5-8160Jr.