The Howard Payne Yellow Jackets are starting with a clean slate as head coach Braxton Harris prepares for his first regular season in charge of the football program. With preseason practices a little more than two weeks away, Harris and the rest of the Yellow Jackets coaching staff spent the week traveling across the state to spread the word about HPU football, while also getting a look at some of the elite talent the state has to offer.
On Friday, the HPU coaches concluded a stretch of five camps in five days — Wolfforth on Monday, The Colony on Tuesday, Tyler on Wednesday, and Houston on Thursday before returning home to the McCullough Athletic Center in Brownwood.
“It's been a great week,” said Harris, who took over as head coach from current HPU athletic director Hunter Sims on Dec. 16. “We started in the Lubbock area and then went to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, then Tyler, Houston yesterday and back in Brownwood today. Through these camps we'll get over 300 students, and that's a great turnout. To be honest, I've been blown away with the reception people have had with Howard Payne football. For us to be able to get in front of 300 high school football players that are going to be seniors, that's a huge advantage in the month of July, just to spread the word about Howard Payne football.”
During his stint as assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator at Texas Lutheran University, Harris helped resurrect a winless program to a 25-5 record over a three-year stretch and three consecutive conference championships. Harris is facing a similar task at Howard Payne, where the Yellow Jackets have won only once in the last two seasons. Among the immediate goals for the new coaching staff is finding talented recruits willing to be the backbone of the rebuilding process.
“Our numbers were a little bit lower in some camps, but we like that,” Harris said. “It gives us a chance to know the kid's name and build a relationship. The thing we want out of this camp is, yes we want to be able to evaluate them and watch them run around, but we also want them to leave having gotten better at something. These who were willing to come out here at 3 o'clock on a Friday afternoon when it feels like 110 degrees outside, there's other places they could be that's cooler and easier, but obviously these are the tip of the sword kids who want to get better.”
Approximately 60 campers attended Friday's event and the spotlight solely shined on the Howard Payne program — unlike the four stops earlier in the week.
“(Satellite camps) are something I did for the last three years when I was at TLU,” Harris said. “We always partnered with somebody, and when you partner with somebody, to be honest, you're the other sister. They're not really there to see you, they're there to see the big school.
“In the back of my mind I always thought if we could get a staff that can get together and work their tails off in recruiting, I wonder if kids would come just because we care about them and want to invite them to those camps, and that's what we've seen. This coaching staff has worked their tails off. What I think it shows is if you work hard at something, good things will come. People want to be part of something where people are working hard.”
As for the coaching staff, only Scott Cough remains from last season in a new role as an offensive assistant. Newcomers include offensive coordinator Coby Gipson, defensive coordinator Beau Davidson, offensive assistants Skye Dawson and Cameron Broderhausen, and defensive assistants Matt Moore, Marshall Mann and Dylan Griffin.
“This has been a great week for us as a staff,” Harris said. “There's no better way to get connected than to spend five straight days, 24 hours a day, together. God has a plan for all things and that's absolutely been the case with this staff. There's been some changes that have happened, but the guys that have hopped in have filled in perfectly. I think they're great fits for this university. One thing I can promise you about this staff is that it is the hardest working staff I've been a part of. Each one of these guys consider it an honor to be here at Howard Payne University. This is an opportunity for us to be a part of something that's bigger than us. These guys are the highest quality of men and the hardest workers.”
Though the HPU coaches spent the last week on the road, Harris said the staff is prepared for the beginning of preseason practices, as the Yellow Jackets arrive on campus Aug. 7.
“We're sitting really good at this point, but we'll use these next two weeks to make sure we finalize our preparations for fall camp,” Harris said. “We've been in contact with them throughout the summer and we're hearing good things about them and how they're working out. There's a lot of excitement with them wanting to get back together as a team.”
The Harris era of Yellow Jackets football begins Sept. 2 at Southwestern Assemblies of God. Nine American Southwest Conference games follow, with the home opener slated for Sept. 23 against rival Hardin-Simmons.