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SALISBURY — Ryan Crowder is Rowan County’s version of the Mona Lisa — no one is quite sure why he’s smiling.
But there he was, Salisbury’s first-year head football coach, grinning from ear-to-ear as the Hornets opened preseason practice on Thursay.
“It’s a project,” Crowder said during one of several water breaks. “Especially when you’re responsible for getting all of it going, not just one side of the ball. Still, we’re having a good time.”
Allow Crowder to enjoy his unexpected introduction. He replaces Joe Pinyan — the former coach with 100 SHS victories printed on the back of his bubble gum card — who took his winning pedigree and fled to nearby Carson in a much-ballyhooed offseason transaction.
Against that backdrop, Crowder, a longtime defensive coordinator on Linconton Road, welcomed 86 varsity and jayvee players to the 2013 season. It’s one that promises more spit than shine, more grit than glamour.
“Change is always difficult,” junior linebacker J.C. Burton said. “But good can come from it. We’ve still got some good players and enough talent to be a good team.”
The way Crowder sees it, his installation as head honcho isn’t so much a stop sign as another chance to accelerate. He may be a new head coach, but this isn’t exactly his first time around the mulberry bush.
“I was around (Pinyan) all the time,” he explained. “Whenever you deal with defense, you have to know what the offense is doing. When you’re setting up drills and dummy teams for the offense, you have to know what’s going on. And over time you take it all in.”
While yesterday’s offensive drills focused on basics — timing, positioning and stances — Crowder envisions a vanilla-flavored unit that will operate with cohesiveness and efficiency.
“You’re always tweeking stuff with formations and personnel,” Crowder said. “We’ll run a base package and do the things we can do. Our base offense for the past 10 years has just been a handful of plays. And this year we’re gonna get good at a handful of plays and go hard.”
They’ve handed the keys to this offense to quarterback Riley Myers, a junior who got mop-up duty on a team with few spills a year ago.
“I’ll admit it’s been a little difficult changing coaches,” he said. “The offense isn’t the same, though it hasn’t been a problem. We’re working hard. Of course we’ll all want to work hard because of who we’re playing the our first game.”
That happens three weeks from tonight when Pinyan and Carson pay a season-opening visit to Ludwig Stadium.
“Doesn’t matter to me,” Crowder said straight-faced. “We’re just concerned about the next one. It doesn’t matter who it is. It’s always about the next game.”
There are, of course, reasons for concern. Outside of Burton, defensive lineman Clint Comadoll and Hornet back Bobby Johnson, Salisbury’s defense is untested.
“We’re very young,” said Comadoll, the 6-4, 205-pound all-conference/all-county honoree. “But we feel good about ourselves. We’ll figure it out and find out how good we are.”
Burton likes the team’s speed and the work ethic new defensive coordinator Ryan Ochier — a Florida transplant — has inspired.
“It’s turned up on defense,” he said. “I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people.”
It’s just a first impression, but so far it’s a pretty picture at Salisbury. “I’m smiling today,” Crowder said, flashing another 150-watt grin. Then he added: “Well, I’m smiling right now.”

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