Following the program’s first-ever regional appearance in boys cross country, new Brownwood head coach Don Hood is hoping for even greater results from the Lions and Lady Lions this fall.

Brownwood kicks off its cross country schedule Saturday morning at Belton’s Long Branch Park, and the Lions and Lady Lions will compete in six other events prior to the District 2-3A meet Monday, Oct. 26.

“I don’t want to set expectations on it, I just want to see how they compete,” said Hood of Saturday’s initial race of the season. “Everybody’s good for the first mile, then when the pain and the reality of how far you’re going sets in, it becomes more about how tough you are as a competitor. I want to see how they respond to that and if they follow my instructions as to how to race and how to compete during that last part of the race.”

The Lions are expected to be led early on by Cameron McLaughlin, Kindry Kirbo and Josh Reece, while Hood hopes to see some younger runners develop in time for the district meet.

“I would hope we could at least get back to regionals,” Hood said. “I don’t know what the other schools have, but we’ve got a good nucleus coming back. I know we’ve lost a couple of good runners from last year’s team, but with the guys we’ve got back, I think we’re going to be pretty good.

“Cameron is looking the best in practices and Kindry is a pretty good looking runner with more of a soccer background, so he comes in in pretty good shape. Josh was one of our top five last year and he’s a great 400-meter runner, which doesn’t translate into three miles very good. But he’s a hard worker and has natural endurance. We’ve also got some younger freshmen and sophomores that could be good with some time, and I’m anxious to see how they develop.”

On the girls side, the Lady Lions are expected to have a varsity squad this season, and Hood also believes they could be a regional contender.

“We’ve got 10 or so that are really focused on racing, and then 10 to 15 more that with time could really get there,” Hood said. “It’s hard, if you don’t train over the summer, to come in and in three weeks get ready to race two miles. Our goal is to run two miles without stopping, and when we get to that point then we can think about racing a little bit. But the girls are coming along.

“Sydnie Darden is an underclassman that has a chance to be a great, great runner. She’s good at everything she does, basketball, softball and everything else. Amanda Gober is tougher than nails and I really like her work ethic. Addie Shipley is getting better every week and has tremendous natural ability, but not the endurance background, but she’s getting better every week. Aranda Salazar is the only senior in the group, and she’s a cheerleader and a soccer player, so she’s got some athletic ability. After that I’m hoping to see somebody else step up. We’ve got five or six that I think can be pretty good.”

Hood’s background alone has increased interest in the cross country program as he’s made coaching stops at Temple High School (six years), Sam Houston State (two years), Texas State (six years), Texas Tech (three years) and Abilene Christian (head coach last four years).

“I started off at the high school level, but I always had that ambition to be a college coach,” Hood said. “My dream job was Abilene Christian since that’s where I went to school, and I got to be there for four years.”

With a family at home, the grueling demands of a college cross country coach began to take its toll on Hood, who was contacted by Brownwood athletic director Bob Shipley in the spring about making a career move.

“My girls are getting older, my oldest is an eighth grader, and last year I got to see one or two of her track meets, one basketball game and none of her volleyball games or choir concerts,” Hood said. “I was constantly gone coaching or recruiting, and I don’t know if you call it a midlife crisis or a slap in the face from reality, but I thought it was too short of a life to miss what I’ve got with them over this short time period.

“Coach Shipley called me after he got the job here, and talked to me about this job. The more I thought about it and prayed about it, it just seemed like the right thing to do. I lived in Brownwood when I was growing up. I went to Coggin Elementary when it was a full elementary, and a semester over at Northwest, and I really loved it here. It’s a great place to raise a family, a great sports town, a great church town and from day one it’s been a blessing.”

Along with his cross country duties, Hood doubles as the girls athletic coordinator, and has been impressed with what he’s seen from the Lady Lions in all sports thus far.

“The girls coaches here are fantastic,” Hood said. “I’m really impressed with how they care about the kids, and how well they coach the kids.”

As for the long term goals of the program, though Hood expects a solid fall season, look for the 2010 campaign to be a banner year for cross country.

“A year from now we’ll be talking a whole different scenario,” Hood said. “Some younger runners will continue to develop and some of the older ones will just get tougher and tougher. It could be a whole lot of fun a year from now.”