MIDLOTHIAN In terms of play, there is nothing new for Slater Gravens. Hes seen more snaps than any other defensive player Midlothian currently has. Sure, hes got some new schemes, terms and plays to learn but when youve been around as long as Gravens has its not hard to add new things to your repertoire.

While there might not be much Gravens has to learn when the ball is snapped, hes still trying to figure out what to do when play isnt going on.

Were pretty young right now. Were actually really young, Gravens said of this years defense. I think a couple of our starters from last year are hurt right now so Im the only starter back from last year. Its 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. Hes a natural leader by example.

But being a vocal leader? Thats 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, hes trying to make good on his word.

Hes handled it tremendously. He is one of the, if not the, toughest kids Ive ever coached, I know that. Hes just a workhorse and the kids respect that, King said. Hes got that natural leadership. Something Ive been proud of him for so far this spring is hes more vocal than he was last year. That just shows me that his maturation is happening and hes a year older and hes 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. Its a strange situation but one that is necessary for the Panthers if theyre 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 defenses 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.

Its also meant his leadership skills are getting their first test as he now spends time talking to players about what theyre doing wrong and right. Truth be told, its a work in progress but its a role Gravens grows more comfortable with each day.

(The coaches told me to) be more vocal. So Im getting more vocal, Gravens says with a smile.

Contact Alex at alex.riley@wninews.com or at 469-517-1456.