Asked to describe a particular middle linebacker on a particularly hot August afternoon, Hart High football players rattled off words and phrases like “enforcer,” “big-hitter,” “one of the most aggressive kids on the team.”
They weren’t talking about Charles Ike, who graduated in the spring after terrorizing Foothill League opponents for the better part of two-plus seasons.
They were talking about senior Julian Salazar, who missed the first five games last year after transferring from Quartz Hill and who made all of 10 total tackles the rest of the way.
Indians players agree, however, that Salazar has learned the ropes, or is at least making major strides, and is ready to make an impact at Ike’s old position.
“He’s a big boy. He can hit, and he’s going to be an enforcer this year,” said Hart running back Ben Rosen, later adding, “The size, the speed, the hitting, he’s good at pass coverage. He’s not afraid to go in there and make a statement with hitting.”
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Salazar is 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, and Hart attempted to utilize his size and athleticism at defensive end in the playoffs last season against Cathedral of Los Angeles, hoping to contain the Phantoms’ dual-threat quarterback, Bryce Young.
“I went in there and did pretty good,” Salazar said. “I could have done better on some plays. It was not what I was used to.”
The whole situation, really, wasn’t what Salazar had expected.
He’d planned on being immediately eligible last season after moving from Quartz Hill to the Santa Clarita Valley in order to live with his uncle and avoid distractions back home.
Instead, he received a sit-out period that ran until Oct. 3.
“I just had to sit out and deal with it,” he said.
Even when he returned, though, he didn’t play much. That hurt, but Hart defensive coordinator Rick Herrington pulled him aside with an important message.
“’Next year, you’re going to be penciled in to be a starting backer,’” Salazar recalled hearing. “… ‘It’s all yours, but you have to start right now. You have to start right now. Everyday.’”
That meant that even when Salazar didn’t get reps in practice, he made sure to stand by Herrington, watching Ike and asking questions.
Now, as the starting middle linebacker, it looks like his study paid off.
“I feel he has filled the spot of Charles Ike,” said Hart senior Da’Von Jones, “and he has been playing his part on the team with the whole defense together, putting all the players in their right spot, listening to coach and following directions and leading this team.”
Another aspect of Salazar’s game caught quarterback JT Shrout’s attention.
“He’s one of the most aggressive kids on the team,” Shrout said. “He likes to hit. He doesn’t shy away from contact. He’s going to go out there, and he’s going to pop you when you come through his zone.”
Salazar and the Indians open their season at College of the Canyons on Sept. 1 against Downey.