When the Apollo High School coaches saw Brycen Gray, they figured they had a football player who could help the team.
He was a freshman, but he didn't look like one, or play like one.
"He was 6-foot, 205 pounds, he was a grown man," Apollo head coach Phillip Hawkins said. "He came to us as a freshman with a full beard. He wasn't older than anybody else, but he was physically mature. We noticed as a freshman he was able to play at the varsity level. The more time we gave him, the more he proved us right. He did not start but he was a guy who had a considerable amount of playing time.
"He's a working machine. He's that dedicated to football, he's about as dedicated a kid as you would ever find."
Gray will be right in the thick of the action this season as a starting middle linebacker.
It's a lot of responsibility for a younger player, but Gray is up for the challenge.
"I've studied a lot under the coaches, I feel like I'm ready to step up this year," Gray said. "I do a lot of studying on the other teams' offense, so I can find better gaps for myself. I felt like last year I was flying to the ball the best I could."
Gray had a nickname that fit a physical football player also, Dozer, when he came to Apollo.
"He came in with a little bit of a reputation," Hawkins said. "He wasn't afraid of anybody at all. He's a super-physical kid. That's one thing you can't teach, linebackers that are really physical. He never runs off, he's like that in practice. He'll lead our team in tackles this year. In practice he's in on one out of every three tackles, it's unbelievable."
Gray had 10 tackles last season, but his numbers should increase significantly, considering the knowledge he gained as a freshman.
"Playing in the trenches, finding the inside gaps, I did the best work I possibly could have done," Gray said. "Being a linebacker, just the fact you can be in all the action on the inside, but I can also drop in coverage and do a lot for my team there."
Gray will be calling a lot of defensive signals for Apollo from the middle linebacker spot.
"I'm going to help make the defense run correctly, and I felt like I had to learn a lot more," Gray said.
He thought his freshman season went well, and now Gray is looking to build on that since he's in the middle of that defense now.
"He's a linebacker," Hawkins said. "You've got to be willing to put your nose in there a little bit. Outside of taking some nerve to be a linebacker, you've got to be fairly instinctful. A lot of people aren't signing up for that spot. Because he works so hard, he ends up naturally being the leader, he understands it so well."