Photo by Andrew Ottoson
The Salmon River boys have seen one of their own go pro and their coach suffer an industrial injury — and will once again bring a blue-collar approach to the football field. The 2018 Savages are (back row, from left): Triston Adams, Eric Nelson, Randy McClure, Isaac Hofflander, Reece Jones, Canyon Harper, head coach Charlie Shepherd; front row, Justin Whitten, Johnny Swift, Ethan Shepherd, Jimmy Tucker, Malachi Bell and Garret Shepherd.
As of Thursday, August 30, 2018
Salmon River’s football program took a turn in the national spotlight this past offseason when the most famous Savage became the first choice of the Dallas Cowboys — the NFL team with America’s biggest fanbase.
Head coach Charlie Shepherd called his trip to Dallas for the draft a high point, the low point having come when he was gravely injured in an accident.
“It set me back physically a little bit, for sure, but it won’t affect my coaching,” Shepherd said. “It’s healed up pretty good, but it was a mess. I was manually sharpening a 60-inch circle saw. I straddle it when I sharpen it. I didn’t tag it out like I’m supposed to and while I was sharpening it, the switch was bumped. Instead of cutting me in half, it threw me. I was extremely fortunate to make a mistake that severe and live to tell about it.”
“I’m going to try to utilize my physical comeback as a way to try to motivate the kids to be grateful for the God-given abilities they have and to not waste a day, because tomorrow those abilities might be gone,” Shepherd said.
During the offseasons, many of the Savages — including star running back Canyon Harper — work blue collar jobs, such as pouring concrete.
That’s no different from how many young Idahoans spend their summers. Uniquely, the Savages will be watching as one of their own goes to work as a professional linebacker. But they aren’t starstruck.
“The NFL had chauffers waiting at the airport to pick us up and we got to tour where they had the draft set up,” Shepherd said. “I got to meet 22 of the coaches throughout the nation — Texas coaches that get paid $100,000 a year, a coach from New Jersey whose office was right there looking at the Twin Towers when they fell, a California coach that was complaining about not having enough players because they only have 800 boys at his private school. I just said, ‘Yeah, you’ve got it rough.’”
Shepherd was in the front row when the announcer called “Leighton Vander Esch” — and got to see his kids’ reaction when the big screen displayed the scene live from the draft party at Summerville’s.
Seeing how far a Riggins kid can go is likely to give football teams across the state a boost — but without a big influx of freshmen or a surge through the cooperative SRHS has run with neighboring schools in recent years, the Savages will once again be one of Idaho’s smallest teams, at least numerically.
Shepherd has 11 out for this season, and he’s looking for three big seniors to show leadership this season.
“Reece Jones, Randy McClure and Canyon Harper are critical to our success, but if they perform well, they give us a chance to compete in the league and at the state level,” Shepherd said. “They’ll help us cover for new kids and inexperienced kids.”
One of Salmon River’s main question marks is at quarterback, where Ethan Shepherd and Jimmy Tucker pencil in for a timeshare.
“Justin Whitten is going to be a sophomore spark plug,” Shepherd said. “He’s going to surprise some people this year.”
“To beat us this year, teams are going to have to stop our run,” Shepherd said. “If we don’t have to pass, we won’t pass. I expect we’ll have to be more balanced against the better teams, and if teams slow Canyon, we’ll have to get the ball to Randy. He’s one of the top receivers at our level.”
Salmon River’s season begins with a home game Aug. 31 against Lapwai.