MIDLOTHIAN – In terms of play, there is nothing new for Slater Gravens. He’s seen more snaps than any other defensive player Midlothian currently has. Sure, he’s got some new schemes, terms and plays to learn but when you’ve been around as long as Gravens has it’s not hard to add new things to your repertoire.
While there might not be much Gravens has to learn when the ball is snapped, he’s still trying to figure out what to do when play isn’t going on.
“We’re pretty young right now. We’re actually really young,” Gravens said of this year’s defense. “I think a couple of our starters from last year are hurt right now so I’m the only starter back from last year. It’s just being a leader and telling people all that stuff, especially the linebackers.”
Leadership has never been Gravens’ problem. With a motor that never seems to stop, the rising senior has earned numerous all-district accolades during his career and is always near the top of the Panther stat sheet in terms of tackles. He’s a natural leader by example.
But being a vocal leader? That’s a different story.
For as hard as his play is, Gravens has never been a showman. He stood back last fall while the seniors took the role of motivators and guides for the defense. Now, those responsibilities fall squarely on his shoulders.
Defensive coordinator Chris King went to Graves before spring practice even started and asked him if he was capable of stepping up and being that vocal guy who players turn to in crunch situations. Gravens responded by saying he could be. Now, he’s trying to make good on his word.
“He’s handled it tremendously. He is one of the, if not the, toughest kids I’ve ever coached, I know that. He’s just a workhorse and the kids respect that,” King said. “He’s got that natural leadership. Something I’ve been proud of him for so far this spring is he’s more vocal than he was last year. That just shows me that his maturation is happening and he’s a year older and he’s going to be a good one.”
Part of that leadership role has been taking a step back in spring practice when it comes to actual playing time. It’s a strange situation but one that is necessary for the Panthers if they’re going to figure out who will surround Gravens on defense.
With so many new faces vying for spots on the depth chart, seeing what the younger players can do when the ball is snapped is the defense’s top priority. That means Gravens, who is assured of a starting spot, is giving way to other players at times so they can step up and play.
It’s also meant his leadership skills are getting their first test as he now spends time talking to players about what they’re doing wrong and right. Truth be told, it’s a work in progress but it’s a role Gravens grows more comfortable with each day.
“(The coaches told me to) be more vocal. So I’m getting more vocal,” Gravens says with a smile.
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