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.

Photo Credit: JIM BESEDA/MOLALLA PIONEER - Molalla junior wide receiver Austin Salley has a reputation as a sure-handed receiver.Molalla wide receiver Austin Salley likes to think of himself as the Tri-Valley Confer-ence’s 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.

That’s 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 Friday’s four-team jamboree with Corbett, Cottage Grove and Crook County at Cottage Grove.

Photo Credit: JIM BESEDA/MOLALLA PIONEER - Junior receiver Austin Salley is looking to follow up last season's first-team, all-league selection with another big year.“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, he’ll go over the middle, and he’s 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, it’s a surprise to all of us.”

Receivers coach Josh Crawford likes Salley’s work ethic.

“I had him his freshman year at the JV level as a running back,” Crawford said. “I’d send him out of the backfield and he’d catch footballs for me. When Coach Mitchell saw that, he was like, ‘That kid’s a varsity receiver next year.’

“Austin is very durable for his size. He cuts where he is supposed to cut, and if he can’t 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.

“It’s 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 we’ve made a lot of improvements since last year as a team.”

If having too many receivers is a problem, Mitchell said it’s a nice problem to have.

“It’s an embarrassment of riches kind of now, but … dang it,” Mitchell said. “We’re really deep. We’ve got lots of kids with very similar skills. It’s an interesting deal, but I’d 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 it’s 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 I’m pretty sure he knows the answers to,” Crawford said. “I tell him all the time, ‘I think you’re challenging me to see if I know the answer.’ But he’s asking a lot more questions than he did last year, and I think that comes with maturity.”

It’s too early to tell if Molalla will be more of a passing team or a running team, but Mitchell enjoys having options.

“That’s 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 that’s going to be very difficult to defend. That’s our goal.”

Evaluation time

Mitchell hopes to see some clean, crisp execution on both sides of the ball during Friday’s 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.

“We’re basically using the jamboree to see how good we are with our base system,” Mitchell said. “We’ve 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 we’re 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 Friday’s 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.

“I’m just looking at the player personnel and making adjustments,” Leighton said. “Will this kid play better at guard or tackle? Let’s see how he does in both positions.

“That’s 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.

-- Jim Beseda / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

(503) 829-2301

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