The Brownwood Lions' quest for their 19th consecutive appearance in the 7-on-7 state championship tournament begins with Saturday's first qualifier of the season at Gatesville.

The Lions have been placed in Pool C, which will compete at 9 a.m. Saturday at Gatesville High School, along with Mineral Wells, Little River-Academy and Cameron Yoe.

“I hope they qualify, there's nothing like winning, but 7-on-7 is a little different beast,” said Lions head coach Sammy Burnett, who will be on hand as a spectator Saturday as preparations for his first season continue. “I tell our kids don't measure yourself based on what happens in 7-on-7 because that's not a very good measuring tool. A lot of state champions in 7-on-7 haven't done as well in the regular season. But I want our kids to win, I want them to get addicted to winning, winning is contagious and it becomes a lifestyle.”

For Burnett, the wins and losses this summer aren't nearly as important as the work the Lions receive. The coaching staff will be on hand at the Lions' four state qualifiers — Gatesville Saturday, Burnet on May 26, Jim Ned on June 15 and in Brownwood June 22 — to evaluate talent in a different environment from what they have since Burnett take over the program in late February.

“For me, honestly, 7-on-7 is about the reps against other opponents that will give you a different look and do different things,” Burnett said. “At this time, in the development of our program, for me the most important thing is for us to get out there and get as many reps as possible. It's a great opportunity to get our system in, our scheme, the way we do things, and go. It's not our total scheme because there's things that happen in 7-on-7 that aren't realistic when it comes the world of 11-man football. But it does give us a chance to go out and evaluate our kids in multiple settings and multiple positions and get a better gauge of where we need to be and how we need to personnel our kids.”

As for the installation of Burnett's system, he said, “On a scale from 1 to 10 we're at a 2. A lot of that's me because we have a lot, I like a lot. I think the more knives you have to throw the better off you're going to be. But a lot of people don't have as much on as we do right now, they're real vanilla. We have some good schemes and packages in that I think we can be successful with. I just tell the kids to execute what we do, try to recognize man coverages and zone coverages. This gives the quarterbacks the opportunity to learn a little bit about our system, what we do, how he can use our system to beat what he sees in front of him, so that's a great teaching tool.”

Players who will be taking part during Brownwood's trip to Gatesville include quarterback Tommy Bowden along with receivers Grayson Swanzy, Braden Jetton, A.J. McCarty, Ben Kallman, George Nicholas, and running back Joseph Johnson. Defensively, Hayden Tunnell, who moved to middle linebacker, Rowdee Gregory at another linebacker spot and Zach Strong and Cooper Swanzy in the secondary will be among the players to watch.

“We've got a good mixture of kids going so it will give us the opportunity to switch them around in different positions and get a better look at who should be an outside linebacker or a safety, or a wide out or a slot receiver, things like that,” Burnett said.

As for the competition the Lions will face Saturday, Class 4A Division I Mineral Wells is coming off a 6-5 season in which it lost to Dallas Carter in the first round of the playoff,  while Little River-Academy and Cameron Yoe will be in the new District 10-3A Division next year after posting a combined 7-14 record a year ago. 

The rest of the pools feature host Gatesville in Pool D along with Early, Lampasas, Rockdale; Lorena, which has already qualified, hosting Pool A along with Groesbeck, Glen Rose and Waco La Vega; and China Spring hosting Pool B along with Stephenville, Waco Connally and Hillsboro.

The 7-on-7 Division II state tournament will take place Thursday, June 28 and Friday, June 29 at Veterans Park and Athletic Complex in College Station.

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Lions release 2018 schedule

The Brownwood Lions' official 2018 varsity football schedule was recently released and for the second time in three years, just nine games are on the docket.

“I looked all over and couldn't find one,” Burnett said in regard to the hunt for a 10th game. “I beat the bushes everywhere in every direction you can think of. I thought I had a couple on the hook and they just wouldn't commit. One just flat said they'd rather play nine games.”

The Lions open the season at home Friday, Aug. 31 in a 5:30 p.m. contest against Class 3A Division I state finalist Brock. Burnett said details will be released in the future on why the start time for the season opener is so early, but he couldn't reveal that information at this time.

The rest of Brownwood's games, minus the homecoming contest against Abilene Wylie, will be played at 7 p.m. — including a Thursday, Sept. 20 tilt at 5A Division II Wichita Falls Rider.

The compete schedule is as follows:

• Saturday, Aug. 18 — at Liberty Hill, 11 a.m. (scrimmage)

• Thursday, Aug. 23 — vs. Burnet, 6 p.m. (scrimmage + Meet the Lions)

• Friday, Aug. 31 — vs. Brock, 5:30 p.m.

• Friday, Sept. 7 — at Snyder, 7 p.m.

• Friday, Sept. 14 — at Graham, 7 p.m.

• Thursday, Sept. 20 — at Wichita Falls Rider, 7 p.m.

• Friday, Sept. 28 — vs. Abilene Wylie, 7:30 p.m. (homecoming)

• Friday, Oct. 5 — OPEN DATE

• Friday, Oct. 12 — at Gatesville, 7 p.m. (district)

• Friday, Oct. 19 — OPEN DATE

• Friday, Oct. 26 — vs. Stephenville, 7 p.m. (district)

• Friday, Nov. 2 — at Waco La Vega, 7 p.m. (district)

• Friday, Nov. 9 — vs. China Spring, 7 p.m. (district)