EARLY — A new era in Early Longhorns football began Friday night as Kent Hawthorne signed a contract through the 2014-15 school year after being unanimously approved by the Early ISD board of trustees as head football coach and athletic director.

Hawthorne’s most recent football job was that of co-defensive coordinator at Class 2A Refugio, which has posted a 27-1 record over the past two seasons with a state championship in 2011 and a state quarterfinals appearance in 2012. He was also Refugio’s head track coach this season, a position he officially relinquished following a meet Thursday night.

“When I saw Early, I was fired up about a great opportunity,” Hawthorne said when asked what initially appealed to him about his new position. “They have great kids, academically strong kids and it’s right in the middle of Texas, and more west, where I want to be. There’s nothing that’s not appealing. I’m looking forward to bringing in my system and getting to work.”

Hawthorne — whose first day on the job will be March 18 — is replacing Brad Bowden, who was reassigned in January after posting an 8-22 record over three seasons with no playoff trips. The Longhorns’ last trip to the playoffs came in 2008, which followed a string of two state semifinal berths and a trip to the state quarterfinals from 2005-07 under head coach Robbie Tindol.

“Early’s been good in everything and I want to be part of that,” Hawthorne said. “I want to hone that, push a little harder, try and get a little farther and get a little better, especially the football program. A few years ago it was solid and I want to bring it back to that.”

Prior to arriving in Refugio, Hawthorne spent three seasons as head coach at Class 2A Weimar and five years as head coach at Class A Cumby, along with a two-year stint as an assistant at Brownfield and a 15-year stay as an assistant at McCamey.

As a head coach, Hawthorne owns a 43-29 record over eight seasons with two trips to the postseason.

In Cumby, the school district had been without football for 12 years prior to Hawthorne’s arrival. In Hawthorne’s five seasons, Cumby posted a 24-27 record with three winning seasons and the program’s first appearance in 28 years in his final campaign.

At Weimar, Hawthorne posted a 19-12 overall mark in three seasons, the best of which was an 8-3 playoff campaign in his second year.

In regard to his coaching style, Hawthorne stated he wants his team in possession of the ball as much as possible.

“We’re very aggressive, very explosive and it’s a lot of fun,” Hawthorne said. “We run some no huddle, some spread, some offset I and we’ve even done some wishbone in the past, whatever makes the coaches that are defending us work. Defensively, it’s the same thing. We’re aggressive and send guys from everywhere. We base out of a 4-3, but we’re not going to sit in any one defense. We’ll run some odd front, depending on what the other offense does. But we’re going to put pressure on them and make them make decisions as fast as we can.”

When it comes to special teams, don’t expect to see those units on the field for long — if at all.

“We don’t punt … and we start off games with what we call a shark kick, we punch it and just get to the ball as fast as we can. I don’t like to give up the ball, I want it all the time if I can get it.”

Hawthorne noted during his time at Weimar his teams averaged 43 points and almost 500 yards of total offense per game, while Refugio averaged 62 points per game over the past two seasons.

Along with Hawthorne, one additional coach will be added to the football staff, which the new head coach will determine. Hawthorne also indicated he would like to call the offense, but that will be decided at a later date.

“I was told I get to bring one, so I want to evaluate what we have here,” Hawthorne said. “I have several coaches who have coached with me before that have shown interest, but I need to see what I need to get.”

As for ending the Longhorns’ postseason drought, Hawthorne intends to have Early back in the playoffs as soon as possible.

“I’m not going to set a timeline, but I want to make the playoffs next year,” Hawthorne said. “They’re taking four teams, I don’t like that personally … but I want to make it now. When I get here on March 18, that’s what we’re going to be working for — getting into the playoffs and making some noise.”

Early superintendent Brett Koch was part of an eight-person committee — which also included Sherry Clark, Shawn Russell, Randy Lancaster, Cliff Mitchell, Jennifer Kent, Jason Jones and Lori Beck — that selected Hawthorne as the lone finalist to present to the board from more than 150 applicants.

“We put in countless hours meeting, working collectively and collaboratively to get this right, to find the right guy for this job,” Koch said. “I feel confident we’ve done that and with the recommendation we’re bringing to the board tonight. This was not a superintendent driven decision, this was a collaborative decision that we made together as a committee. We all know how very important these decisions are, getting the right person to represent Early ISD and be a role model for the district.”

Koch added Hawthorne’s wife, Chris, will also be joining the Early school district in the coming school year. She will work on one of the campuses, but her role has not yet been determined. The Hawthornes have two sons, Brixx and Lynx, and a daughter, Lexy. Brixx is a defensive back at Texas State, Lynx is a receiver at Baylor and Lexy is a senior at Refugio High School.