Brownwood looking for better result in opener of Maxfield’s second year as head coach

Year two of the Kyle Maxfield coaching era at Brownwood High begins at 7 p.m. Friday at Peoples Bank Stadium in Wolfforth where the Lions look to avenge last year’s season-opening 20-17 overtime loss to the Class 5A Canyon Eagles.

Maxfield and the Lions, looking to improve on 2016’s bi-district championship campaign and 6-4 record, are feeling much more comfortable heading into the season opener compared to this time a year ago.

“It was a long ride home from Lubbock last year, but we’re a lot further along this year,” Maxfield said. “I don’t remember being as excited, not only me but the coaching staff, to come into a place like Brownwood and be accepted. People know what we’re about now and we feel like the product on the field is going to show that. We’re not where we need to be yet, but I feel like for a Week 1 game we’re a lot further along than last year. To have that comfort really makes a huge difference.”

The Lions are coming off a pair of scrimmage performances that featured mixed results. In their first outing against Burnet, the Lions generated 458 yards and five touchdowns in 40 snaps, while yielding just 26 yards and a pair of first downs in the same number of plays. Last week against Class 5A Wichita Falls Rider, however, the Lions were outscored three touchdowns to two over 50 controlled snaps for each team, then 7-0 in one live quarter of action.

“No one wins or loses a scrimmage, you’re just trying to find out your identity, find out your personnel and who can do what,” Maxfield said. “In the scrimmages you want to work on your stuff, but at the same time you catch yourself not working on stuff that you need to work on just so you don’t show it.

“Burnet is going to be fine, they’re just young right now. It was just one of those days where everything we did went right and they were struggling with some young players. Going into Rider, we jumped on them a little bit last year when they rolled into town so we were feeling pretty good about ourselves when we got off the bus. It was nice to see us line up against somebody that has the same mentality and same blue collar philosophy that we do, and they showed it. My only message to the team afterward was we pride ourselves on being physical, and not that we weren’t, but Rider was more physical than we were. We don’t ever want to walk off the field having been out-physicaled.”

Canyon conducted just one scrimmage against Lubbock Estacado two weeks ago and this past week opted to hold an intrasquad scrimmage.

“We traded our first week scrimmage with them, but it’s hard to get a true scouting report on them right now because they’ve only had the one scrimmage against Lubbock Estacado,” Maxfield said.

Gone from last year’s Canyon roster are quarterback Gunner Palacios, middle linebacker Dayne Douglas and 29 other seniors. However, running back Rowdy Vaughn is back after rushing for 111 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries, including a 75-yard scoring sprint, in last year’s game.

Eagles head coach Blake Bryant returns only three starters on each side of the ball from last year’s 8-3 playoff squad. Canyon is picked to place fourth in District 3-5A this season by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine. Players to watch include Vaughn, quarterback Lawton Rikel, and receiver Logan Koch on offense, along with defensive linemen Isaac Huseman and Jakob Nelson, linebacker Bo Christie and Kason Hagood in the secondary.

“They lost a lot of starters so that will hurt, but they do look bigger than last year, lots of size,” Maxfield said. “Their offense was really explosive against Estacado. They lost a good tailback and a quarterback that was a Johnny Manziel type that just ran around and made plays, but the quarterback they have this year has a lot of speed, runs a 10.8 in the 100-meter dash so he can definitely fly and he throws the ball really well. We’re hoping his hips aren’t as good as the quarterback they had last year so maybe we can get some pressure to him. Their backs look explosive, and up front they look about the same, they just reload up front like all 5A schools do.

“Defensively they’re missing their mike linebacker, he was the foundation of their defense, made a lot of plays against us and was the MVP of their defense last year so it’s going to be interesting to see how they replace him. Up front they’re bigger than they were last year so we’re going to have to play with good pad level and keep those feet moving because we’re not really big, but we’re athletic. We’re big on the defensive front, but on offense I don’t think you would label us as a big offensive front. We’re going to have to use our quickness and speed up front.”

The Lions offense — which averaged 35 points and 338 yards, 181 rushing and 157 passing, last year — is anchored by a front line of center Wyatt Jacobs, left tackle Colby Coppic, right tackle Liam McCraw, left guard Blaize Infinger and the lone newcomer right guard Tyelor Chew. Tight end Rylan Reagan is also valuable asset.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever been involved with such a strong, senior-heavy line that has so much experience,” Maxfield said. “You put all that experience together, that’s where it starts for us and makes us feel like we have a chance.”

As for the skill positions, Tommy Bowden will likely see the bulk of the snaps at quarterback with Clayton Bertrand and possibly A.J. McCarty seeing action. Gavin Jefferson leads the running back corps along with Cain Kittrell, Joseph Johnson and Dylan Hickey. Top receiving threats include McCarty, Braden Jetton, Hunter Leonard, Nick Salazar, Grayson Swanzy, Alvaro Villarreal and Tristan Revada. Patrick Nash and Ian Moreno will also be sprinkled into the mix in an H-back role.

“We have a lot of depth and we feel like one of our strengths is we can get different personnel groups on the field, give different looks and take advantage of different mismatches where we find them,” Maxfield said.

Defensively for the Lions — who gave up 27 points and 362 yards, 182 on the ground and 180 through the air, per outing in 2016 — manning the trenches will be Leonard and last year’s 3-4A Division I Newcomer of the Year Hayden Tunnell at the ends and Santanna Espinoza and Theo Bryant at the tackles.

“We have three juniors and a sophomore in our front four and I feel like we’re as talented there as we were last year, Maxfield said. “Hayden and Hunter are as fast-footed as any two ends in the state and Santanna and Theo bring a lot of beef to the table and are hard to move.”

The linebacking corps is led by returning Associated Press All-State honorable mention selection Hunter Mares and Jefferson on the outside, along with Hayden Donahoo in the middle. Hickey and Moreno will also see time.

“Our linebackers have the most experience, but we’re trying to build some depth,” Maxfield said.

In the secondary, Kirk Vickers and Marcus Mosley will man the corners while Nash and Bertrand are expected to start at the safeties. Revada and Jetton, at the corners, and McCarty and Ben Kallman, on the back end, will also likely see time.

“We probably have 10 guys back there you can throw in at any time,” Maxfield said.

Reagan will also handle kickoffs, punts and field goals, while Zack Smith could be used on extra points.

Brownwood committed 15 penalties for 133 yards in last year’s opener, many of which killed drives in a trend that continued throughout the season. Avoiding unnecessary penalties has been preached to the Lions since the conclusion of the 2016 campaign, and is the biggest key in the opener, according to Maxfield.

“I said again after playing Rider, we are our biggest enemy,” Maxfield said. “It’s not necessarily going to be about the Canyon defense, but about us not having drive-stopping penalties and taking care of the ball. Canyon is really good on defense, don’t get me wrong, but I feel like we control our destiny on the offensive side of the ball.”

Brownwood is ranked No. 20 in Class 4A Division I by Harris Ratings Weekly, while Canyon comes in as the No. 66 team in all of Class 5A. Harris Ratings Weekly lists the Lions as a 3-point favorite.