Getting smarter in my old age. Have now perfectly timed the end of my July vacation to synch up with the new early start to Missouri High School Football. Certainly makes returning to work a much more fun proposition. Best Monday of the year, I would argue.

On the flipside, the new MSHSAA practice rules are going to hamstring any real salient player evaluations until contact days start. Expect our tour stops for the first few days to be limited to teams with known commodities returning, so that we aren't fighting to show video of important kids doing read/recognition drills or the dreaded walk-thru. Not exactly sexy video. Thusly South Shelby, with the returns of Trace Windsor, Ryan Larrick, Brett Threlkeld, Austin Durbin et al made a lot of sense for our first visit.

One of the biggest changes afoot in Shelbina this season will the changing of the guard at Defensive Coordinator. Zach Grassley needed to scale back some of his time commitments this season so he gave up the reigns of the Defense and will become a Line Coach. Curt Bowen has been elevated to the title of Defensive Coordinator and is preaching a more aggressive, gambling style that will hinge on blitzes and stunts. Expect this new look to maximize the Cardinals most promising Defensive Attribute: a pair of stellar Middle Linebacker prospects in Bryce Fifer and Sidney Wear. Both have been impressive enough early in their careers to compel Rob Wilt to invoke a Bryce Johnston comparo or two. Not that either player is that level of performer yet. But Wilt has intimated that both his Middle Backers might have that kind of ceiling. And they did combine for 171 tackles a season ago.

The Cardinals won't have much depth on Defense, but Coach Bowen's Top 11 boasts good experience and outlier speed in the Secondary and at Linebacker. The unsung hero of this group is Safety Austin Durbin, who has tremendous size for the position at 6'2" and runs deceptively well.

Trace Windsor needs just 1000 yards and change to become South Shelby's All Time Career rushing leader. Let that sink in a second. We are talking about a group of luminaries that includes Ron Janes, Tony Hall, Ethan Harris, Logan Schwada. It says a lot about just what a workhorse Windsor has been (3267 and 32 TD) over the last two years. The interesting admission from Trace today was that he didn't think he's been in good enough shape the last two years, which he blames for some of his late season injury breakdowns. Obviously, some of that was just freakish bad luck but Trace isn't taking any chances and has really ratcheted up his off-season work in the hopes of finally getting to finish a season. And to finish it, by his own admission, with a State Title.

As good as Windsor is, it's hard to call him South Shelby's Franchise player without throwing a nod to Ryan Larrick. Obviously, the Offensive Tackle is a returning All Stater and a 270 pound monster who comes off the ball with a suprisingly low center of gravity. The thing everyone inside the program raves about is Larrick's work ethic. Brett Threlkeld says Ryan runs three miles a day. There are Linemen in this area who haven't run three miles in their career. He's also a first in/last out Weight Room guy. Hard not to root for a kid like that and on motor alone this kid is probably worth a recruiting flyer.

Even with Windsor back, expect the Cardinals to place more emphasis this year on the passing game. The easy conceit is to say that Rob Wilt is trying to take pressure off his All State Tailback. That may be true, but I think it's equally fair to say that South Shelby's unsung but outstanding crew of pass catchers needs to see the ball more often as well. Durbin is a known commodity and will get used more often at the X spot this season, giving him a chance to split out wide and use his size and speed to win the deep ball. Rob Wilt is also high on Chase Morrow as Slot Receiver. The kid who impressed me a ton today and is my South Shelby Breakout pick is Tight End Josh Ridgely, who clearly got into the weight room and did work this off-season. South has had some sneaky good tight ends over the years (see also, Wes Mefford) and I think Ridgely is going to be afforded a similar type opportunity to shine. He's got the strength to wall off defenders and had two catches today that displayed outlier hand/eye coordination on passes 80% of high school kids would drop.

Rob Wilt says Brett Threlkeld has made nice strides honing his passing accuracy in the off-season. Given the speed he brings to the table, he could be a very dangerous man going forward.

While the Cardinals appear to be very strong on the right side of the offensive line with the returns of Wear and Larrick, rebuilding the other side remains one of the team's more pressing concerns. Nick Mayes might be an answer at the Tackle spot. Twin brothers Taylor and Tanner Foster will get long looks at Center and Guard.

Shout out to my guy Drew Wilt who was showing off his hustle and heart in conditioning drills today.