The 5-foot-11, 160-pound junior receiver was named to the all-Tri-Valley Conference first team last season, despite the fact that Molalla finished in fourth place and missed the Class 4A state playoffs.
Molalla wide receiver Austin Salley likes to think of himself as the Tri-Valley Confer-ences equivalent of Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker.
Undersized by most NFL standards, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Welker is a five-time Pro-Bowler who has excelled in a sport where size matters, developing a reputation as a sure-handed receiver who consistently beats linebackers and defensive backs who are significantly bigger.
Thats Salley on the high school level.
At 5-11 and 160 pounds, Salley is an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than he was last season when he was named to the all-Tri-Valley Conference first team in a vote of league coaches, who were impressed with someone so slight playing so big.
Salley is also a big reason the Indians are talking about a potential breakout season and they prepare Fridays four-team jamboree with Corbett, Cottage Grove and Crook County at Cottage Grove.
Austin is a kid who is fearless when he is out there playing football, Molalla coach Kaleb Mitchell said. He plays out of the slot, hell go over the middle, and hes not worried about getting that contact some kids shy away from.
The best thing probably about him is that when you throw him the football, he catches it. When he drops the ball, its a surprise to all of us.
Receivers coach Josh Crawford likes Salleys work ethic.
I had him his freshman year at the JV level as a running back, Crawford said. Id send him out of the backfield and hed catch footballs for me. When Coach Mitchell saw that, he was like, That kids a varsity receiver next year.
Austin is very durable for his size. He cuts where he is supposed to cut, and if he cant get there because someone is standing there, he makes the right adjustment, depending on what he reads.
Molalla has an abundance of wide receivers. The Indians also are counting on Reed Aylett, Payton Dobbs, Keaton Franco and Dalton Kibbons to make big plays in the passing game, and there are several others who have been pressing through the first few weeks of training camp to get on the field.
The Indians often ran out of a one-back, four-receiver formation last season, but now are leaning toward more of a pro set with two backs, one tight end and two receivers a shift that has only added to the competition for playing time among the receivers.
Its going to be a battle, Salley said. We have to work hard every day to try and earn our positions. No position is really a given at this point. You have to earn it.
I think we have what is probably one of the best receiver groups in the state. I can tell weve made a lot of improvements since last year as a team.
If having too many receivers is a problem, Mitchell said its a nice problem to have.
Its an embarrassment of riches kind of now, but dang it, Mitchell said. Were really deep. Weve got lots of kids with very similar skills. Its an interesting deal, but Id rather have too many than not enough.
Crawford talks about rotating receivers to get more players in the game and as a way to keep fresh bodies on the field, but he also knows its going to be difficult to have Salley on the bench anytime Molalla has the ball.
Austin has gotten a lot faster, and he asks questions that Im pretty sure he knows the answers to, Crawford said. I tell him all the time, I think youre challenging me to see if I know the answer. But hes asking a lot more questions than he did last year, and I think that comes with maturity.
Its too early to tell if Molalla will be more of a passing team or a running team, but Mitchell enjoys having options.
Thats the beauty of it, is we can be very multiple, Mitchell said. Teams only have a week to prepare for us, so if we can do a lot of things really well, then thats going to be very difficult to defend. Thats our goal.
Mitchell hopes to see some clean, crisp execution on both sides of the ball during Fridays four-team jamboree beginning at 6 p.m. at Cottage Grove High School.
Molalla opens the jamboree against Crook County, with each team running 12 plays on offense and 12 plays on defense.
The Indians then play Corbett and close out the night against the host Lions.
Were basically using the jamboree to see how good we are with our base system, Mitchell said. Weve got our base packages on offense and defense installed, and we want to see how good we are with those.
I want to see if we can play fast and physical, and be positive the whole time.
The Indians still have a number of personnel decisions to make before the Sept. 5 opener at Taft in Lincoln City, including choosing which young players are most likely to swing between the junior varsity and varsity squads.
If we want to make a run like were talking about, we need more depth than just our ones, Mitchell said. Kids are going to get dinged up. It happens every year. We have to have two and threes ready.
Mix and match
Colton coach Dan Leighton plans to use players in multiple positions during Fridays 6 p.m. jamboree at North Marion High School, looking to see where each is most effective.
The Vikings face St. Paul to open the jamboree, then Woodburn, and finish out the night playing North Marion.
Im just looking at the player personnel and making adjustments, Leighton said. Will this kid play better at guard or tackle? Lets see how he does in both positions.
Thats my whole goal, to let kids play a variety of positions and find out where they are a true fit.
Colton opens the season Sept. 5 against Taft in Lincoln City.