The Early Longhorns will attempt to join the Brownwood Lions in the field of 64 teams at the 7-on-7 Division II State Tournament as the final state qualifying tournament for both squads takes place Friday at Brownwood High School.
The Lions punched their ticket for a 19th straight trip to College Station on May 19 as they advanced in their first of four state qualifiers at Gatesville. Brownwood has also competed at Burnet and Jim Ned, as well as taking part in a few league games this summer.
“(7-on-7) has given us the opportunity to look at multiple kids,” said Brownwood head coach Sammy Burnett. “It's given us the chance to evaluate some younger kids, but we've also seen some growth in our older kids, and some kids that maybe didn't have an opportunity last year to really shine.”
What's stood out the most, Burnett added, is, “Our kids want to win. Our competitive drive, I'm glad to see it. I didn't know if we would have it, but that's the Brownwood way. To see them really want to get out there and compete and the way they start talking and communicating in times of adversity and how they find ways to get out of that adversity because they're working together is huge. That's how you build a team, around chemistry, and I think they have a good chemistry right now.”
The Longhorns are looking for their second state berth — and first since 2001 — as they prepare for their third outing of the season. Early also took part in the Gatesville and Jim Ned tournaments.
“We're just going to give our best effort and work very, very hard and get out there and compete,” Early head coach Blake Sandford said. “The kids have been working hard so (making it to state) would be a nice pay off for the work they've put in.”
Friday's tournament will consist of 14 teams — two four-team pools, which Brownwood and Early will be part of — and two three-team pools. The first and second place teams in the three-team pools will advance to a play-in game, where the winners of those contests will move on to face the champions of the two four-team pools in the semifinals. The two semifinal winners secure a spot in the state field.
State qualifier Brownwood will compete in Pool A along with Sweetwater, Ballinger and McGregor.
“I'd like to see us take one step up the ladder,” Burnett said in regard to his goals for the Lions. “I want to see us execute and compete and take advantage of the opportunities and not let doors that are open close on us. When we need to get off the field defensively, find ways to get off, don't make excuses just get it done. I want our kids to come off the field offensively or defensively because we got it done because of us, or we didn't get it done because of us and understand the way we fix that is through us. That's what's important, I want to see them holding each other accountable and let's don't blame other people for the situation we're in, good or bad, let's hold ourselves accountable and press on from there.”
Early will be in Pool D with state qualifier Graham, Breckenridge and Fort Stockton.
“Obviously we would have liked to have qualified at other tournaments, but that didn't work out the way we wanted it to,” Sandford said. “But developing our offense and developing our players, that's always key and we've been doing that. We've got some kids that are making some plays and doing the right thing. I've been real proud of the way the kids have been working on offense and how physical they've been.
“We have some new kids that are going to be on varsity this year and I expected them to make plays and they are. That's been real pleasant to see, guys getting up there that are catching the ball and defending it. I've been real pleased with that, guys stepping up that are going to be first-time varsity players. They're doing a good job. Our quarterback is doing a great job getting the ball to them. It's been really fun to watch them work.”
Pool B will be comprised of state qualifier Gatesville, Llano and Dublin, while Pool C is made up of state qualifier Sonora, Glen Rose and Eastland.
Games begin at 9 a.m. at Brownwood High School with the play-in games slated for noon, and the semifinals set for 1:30 p.m. State qualifiers cannot advance past pool play competition.
Hosting the tournament instead of simply competing will present the Lions coaching staff with some additional challenges Friday.
“It's a lot more work and responsibility,” Burnett said. “A lot more coaches have responsibilities they have to take care of. The maintenance grew has done a great job getting the fields ready and helping us get that stuff done. We want to make sure it's run off the way we want it to be run off, better than everybody else in a way that people want to come back. It's an all day deal, not just sit down in a chair and watch them play. We'll be doing something constantly, plus trying to watch our kids as they go. It's a full plate but we're very organized and ready to get it done.”
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.