By Pat Turner
Eddie Salas’ enthusiasm level is at an all-time level.
As a high school football coach, every season has a way of pumping up Salas’ energy.
However, 2018 is much different than seasons past as Salas has the task of building Harlan’s football program from the ground up. Creating a tradition for Northside Independent School District’s newest high school is an adventure Salas and those involved eagerly await. After all, they have an opportunity to set the foundation for the future.
“For me coming to a place and starting everything new is exciting,” said Salas, who came to Harlan following a head coaching stint at Holmes. “We can put the print on every bit of it. There’s schools where you go, and the tradition is already set. But when you come to a place like Harlan, you get to set that.
“Mr. (Robert) Harris (Harlan principal) and I talk about tradition a lot. We talk everything with our kids in mind. What traditions are going to be exciting for them? I think we came up with a lot. Some people may think about starting slow and build a few things as you go. We have taken a different approach. We want things to happen as soon as possible. It’s worked out.”
Salas knows leading a team into its first varsity season is going to be a challenge, but from what he’s seen, progress is being made daily. By the time, the fall rolls around, the Hawks’ coach expects to see more positive strides.
The Hawks got a taste of competition a year ago while playing a JV schedule.
Recently, the Hawks went through their first spring drills and showed additional improvement.
“It was good to have a JV season,” Salas said. “They got an idea of what to expect. I think it was the best thing. One of the things that happened was when I got the job I was able to go to Brennan and Taft during the offseason and coach those kids who would be coming here.
“That was good, but that was just a few kids. We had a few coming from O’Connor and we didn’t our freshmen. We had to get to know. Going into the JV season we were able to get a lot of work. I felt like it was an extended spring ball. It gave us an opportunity to find personnel and help our kids grow.”
In addition to competing, Salas introduced his players, who went 3-7 during their JV season, to other phases of the varsity atmosphere by holding Meet the Hawks Night, Parents Night and Homecoming.
“Meet the Hawks was the first thing we did,” Salas said. “We had it on our football field. We had the band and cheerleaders. The new school song was being played and we had the new uniforms. I think they got hyped up about something that was theirs.
“Homecoming was great. We even had a homecoming dance and homecoming court. It’s going to be two years before someone actually comes back. We’re not going to wait two years and take away that experience from our kids.”
Harlan is competing in District 14-5A Division I its first two years with McCollum, Harlandale, Eagle Pass Winn, Southwest Legacy, Southwest and Laredo Martin. Going against established programs puts the Hawks at a disadvantage as far as experience goes. However, talent is present with such players as quarterback Kannon Williams, wide receivers Jacory Logan, Michael Bell and Shomari Anderson, plus defenders Sam Carter, Angel Leon and Zane Svoboda.
The key now is putting all the pieces together.
“We were able to build from the spring and to know each kids’ talent.,” said Salas, whose Hawks will have 12 seniors on the squad. “We were able to evaluate talent, go back to the drawing board and put players in the best spots. We’re going to go with what is best for our personnel. We want them to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. We’ve put them in game situations like that, so they’ll know how to handle it.”
While refining the talent, Salas and his staff are also developing a family atmosphere. From his previous experiences as a coach, having that special bond is what gets everything working consistently.
“The best thing about last year was we were able to start building relationships with our kids. I always felt like players need to love who they play for.
“We were putting it all together and we needed that year where we could get to know each other. You have to build families within your team. If you can’t build families, it’s going to be tough.”
Once again Salas used other buildings tactics to develop that connection. The Hawks held team events, and got involved in community service, while also showing support for Harlan’s other athletics and organizations.
During the spring, Harlan had an All-Sports Picnic instead of an All-Sports Banquet. That received raving reviews.
To create more interest, the Hawks held a spring festival the same time as the spring football game.
“The kids had a blast,” Salas said. “We had competitive games at the picnic. We had teams of 15 that the kids chose. We had a 15-man pyramid, relays, obstacle courses and tug-o-war. We ate hot dogs and hamburgers and gave out rewards. I thought it was one of the best things we could do. The people had a great time at the spring game and spring festival. I can see it growing next year.”
Now, the Hawks look forward to making their presence felt on the football field Prior to beginning 14-5A play, Harlan scrimmages Marshall, before opening the season against Salas’ former school Holmes.
After that, there’s non-district encounters with Floresville, Laredo United South and Del Rio. By the time district rolls around, Salas expects his Hawks to be good to go.
“It could be a good year,” Salas said. “We start out playing Holmes, which is special for me because I know those kids and they mean a lot to me. Playing an established 6A team will tell us where we are at that time.
“It’s going to be different than JV. Emotions are going to be higher. You could tell the kids learned from last year. I feel very good about it. I think winning will take care of itself if we take care of the little things.”
Harlan notes: Most of the team sports played JV schedules, but Harlan competed in varsity in swimming, tennis and golf with impressive results. The boys swim team won district titles as well. Harlan’s boys’ and girls’ golf teams won league crowns. In tennis, boys’ singles player Landon Skrobarcek advanced to the 5A State Tournament.