By Jeremy Stafford -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Shenandoah defensive end Mo Salih fixes his midnight blue helmet to his head, and his motor begins to rev.
It's a motor SU head coach Paul Barnes says runs at 100 miles per hour, and lasts for as long as that helmet is strapped to his chin. During practice, Salih's motor never slows; during games it never putters out.
"And I mean it goes 100 miles an hour, once he puts that helmet on," Barnes said. "I'll tell you what, even during warm-ups his motor is going, and that's what you love to see.
"If you get 100 guys like that, you're never gonna come off the field second."
Prior to Shenandoah's home-opening loss against Bridgewater last Saturday, Salih's motor wasn't just running, it was roaring.
Just before kickoff, Salih approached fellow defensive end Blake Campbell.
"I don't want any stats or any tackles," he told Campbell. "I'm just gonna try to mess stuff up -- you go have fun."
Normally, Salih is the wrench thrown into the gears of an opposing offense. He gladly takes on two linemen so that an SU linebacker can make a play; and he admits he's hardly concerned with padding his own stats.
But it was clear that while he was "mess[ing] stuff up" in the Bridgewater game, it wasn't just linebackers Joe Lunsford and John Redmond who were having fun.
Salih notched nine tackles -- tied with Lunsford for most in the game -- seven of which were solo tackles. He sacked Eagles quarterback Hagan Driskell twice for a loss of 7 yards.
"He's real aggressive, he's not gonna shy away from contact from anybody," Campbell said. "He pretty much just wants to hit everybody on offense that he sees.
"And he still gets the job done even when he's being so destructive."
But it hasn't always been that way for Salih. In fact, two years ago, the defensive star was lined up on the other side of the ball.
Though Salih was a standout defensive end at Annandale High School, he also started at tight end, since a player of his capabilities was too valuable not to start both ways. When Salih enrolled at Shenandoah in 2006, Barnes listed Salih as a tight end, a position of need, rather than a defensive end, where the Hornets had depth.
"What he did was he took one for the team," Barnes explained. "That's the other thing you like about him, he took one for the team, and we talked about it, and he didn't complain.
"He played that same way at tight end: His motor never stopped, he gave me everything he had, and that's what you look for."
For two seasons Salih rotated in and out at tight end, getting valuable playing time as a freshman, and earning an occasional start as a sophomore.
By the time Salih was a junior, that depth on the defensive line had vanished, and Barnes marveled at the possibilities of moving Salih, who was so explosive off the line as a tight end, to his natural position at defensive end.
"We kinda talked to Mo and he said, 'Hey coach, I want to go over there,'" Barnes said. "And I think ever since he's been over there, it has changed our complexity on our defense so much that he just raises it another level."
Indeed, the change was nearly immediate. Although he had to make some minor technical adjustments, as well as adapt to playing defense in the faster, more complex world of college football, Salih became a prototypical defensive end. With his motor running, Salih gunned off the line of scrimmage each and every play, and was nearly unblockable.
"Coach [Kalvin] Oliver was a tremendous help," Salih said. "I would be no where near as good without coach Oliver -- he helped me out a lot with my stance, techniques, just little stuff. ... I just needed help getting back into it, getting back into a routine, playing all the regular stuff I used to play."
In his first season on defense, Salih set the Shenandoah record for tackles for a loss with 15 tackles, 13 of which were solos, for 61 yards.
After two games this season, he leads the Hornets with three tackles for a loss of 9 yards. With 14 total tackles, he trails only Lunsford for most on the team.
With a pass-happy Randolph-Macon team coming to Winchester tonight, Barnes can at least rest assured that Salih's motor will be sparking at 100 miles per hour, searching out Yellow Jackets quarterback Austin Faulkner, and leaving offensive linemen to tread in his wake.
For winless Randolph-Macon, tonight's game is about notching their first win of the season before making a run at defending their Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship; for Salih and Shenandoah, it's about proving to the SU faithful that the Hornets' loss to Bridgewater was a fluke.
"These past couple years, when we lose a game at home, we usually have a couple of games away, so we don't have a chance to redeem ourselves in front of the home crowd," Salih said. "But this time we can actually show the school and the community that it's not like every other year.
"We're actually gonna do something this year."