In a season filled with changes, no Salem-Keizer school is dealing with a bigger one than McNary. New head coach Connor Astley takes the reins after Jeff Auvinen stepped down heading into the summer.
And the changes can be seen at practice, where, according to players, the energy is just different compared to the more subdued feel under Auvinen.
“He brings a lot more energy,” senior Jackson Alt said. “We’re loose and we’re having fun. Football’s supposed to be fun.”
Astley said that as a staff, they’ve tried to find ways to make the daily grind more enjoyable for the players.
Along with the change, with Astley comes a lot of new faces, both on the coaching staff and the field.
“We’ve got a lot of fresh blood here,” Astley said. “We’ve got a lot of new coaches, a lot of young guys who are stepping up.”
And the Celtics will need those guys to step up after graduating 14 starters. And not just starters, all-conference level talent. Nine of them earned first or second team honors last season, while quarterback Tyler Copeland took home conference player of the year.
McNary also lost another key piece by transfer, Tyler’s younger brother Braiden Copeland. Braiden transferred to West Salem to take part in their EMT program, while also playing football in his senior year for the Titans.
Astley got the news from Braiden in early July.
“I told him ‘I’m disappointed, obviously. You’re a great kid, a great football player, but more than anything I just like having you around because you’re a good energy. But I respect what you want to do, I respect your decision,’” Astley said. “I hope nothing but the best for him and it sounds like he’s already having an impact over there.”
With all the turnover, the Celtics still have some questions at key positions. There’s still a bit of a quarterback battle. Astley likes the leadership that his senior signal caller Alt brings, but Astley said junior Gage Smedema has “it.” Smedema put on a show at McNary’s Blue Day, and Astley will look to get him involved whether it’s behind center or as a wide receiver.
Alt likes the outlook of the season with the talent that McNary puts on the field.
“We’ve got some dudes and I think if we can just get them in space, score some touchdowns I think we’ll be set,” Alt said.
While Alt wants to focus on being a leader for this team, he’s not alone. Fellow senior Hunter Ruberto, a running back and linebacker, is keyed to take a leadership role on the team. The three-sport athlete saw the influence last year’s senior class had on the practice field, and he strives to make the same impact.
“Playing last year with all those leaders and all those great players it kind of opened my eyes to how to really be a leader for my senior year and really come out and help the young guys progress, get better and work hard as a family,” Ruberto said.