Three months from today the Brownwood Lions will open the 2008 high school football season as a member of Class 3A for the first time in over 25 years. One of the perks of the Lions’ new classification is the opportunity to take two potential paths to College Station for the 7-on-7 state tournament, which Brownwood is attempting to reach for the 10th consecutive summer.

The Lions will play in both the traditional Class 4A/5A 7-on-7 state qualifying tournaments, as well as a 3A/2A/A event — Saturday’s summer debut at Gatesville High School.

“This will be our first, and the only one we’ve got on our schedule this year, Class A through 3A tournament,” said Lions 7-on-7 and offensive coordinator Mitch Moore. “There are now two divisions for the state tournament in College Station, a Class A through 3A and then 4A and 5A. You can qualify in one or the other.”

Brownwood is hoping to qualify for both as it has 4A/5A tournament appearances scheduled at Lake Travis June 7, at Abilene June 14 and at home on June 21. If the Lions qualify for state in both divisions, they can only compete in one and must choose which division prior to the July 10-12 state tournament on the campus of Texas A&M. The small school tournament will take place Thursday, July 10 and Friday, July 11, while the larger schools will compete Friday, July 11 and Saturday, July 12.

“It’s a choice and you’ve got to declare yourself,” Moore said. “We’re going to try and qualify this weekend and see what we do after we get through with the rest of the tournaments this summer.”

The Lions have been quick starters in 7-on-7 action in the recent past, earning state berths in their first weekend of action in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Last year, Brownwood qualified in its third tournament of the summer.

“We want to go down and make a good showing,” Moore said. “Historically, we’ve been pretty good in the first week of tournaments. I’m counting on us getting off to a fast start again.”

The Lions are again approaching 7-on-7 as a teaching tool and an opportunity to improve prior to the fall season. Though the Lions coaching staff has stated in the past that reaching the state tournament is not one of the primary objectives, nine straight trips prove a continual summer progression almost guarantees a trip to College Station.

“It’s good work for our quarterbacks, receivers and backs with running our routes and throwing the passes we do in the fall,” Moore said. “It’s also good for our defensive guys to cover man-to-man and a little bit of zone. Whatever we do this summer is to help us in the fall.

“The thing I like about 7-on-7 is it keeps us highly competitive throughout the summer. You’re getting to compete all summer long and it keeps that competitive edge going.”

Among the 19 Lions who will see action in tournaments this summer are Casey Pachall, Hayden Hewitt, Travis Holleman, Tanner Vaughn, Bubby Harrell, Shelby Miller, Rashad Deal, Parker Taylor, Payton Ragsdale, Kenny Vaccaro, Tyler Kemp, Dillon Scott, Rolando Castaneda, Taylor Chesser, Luke Chastain, Cade Johnson, Graylon Brown, Zac Fulton and Derek Longoria.

Pachall, Vaccaro, Taylor, Harrell, Miller and Ragsdale — who will all be seniors — are the veteran members of the group.

Pachall, who has verbally committed to play quarterback at TCU, completed 85-of-182 passes for 1,339 yards with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions a year ago. He also rushed for 465 yards and four scores.

Vaccaro, a Texas verbal commitment, led the Lion defense with 103 tackles and added four interceptions and four fumble recoveries from his safety position.

Taylor was Brownwood’s leading receiver last year with 25 catches for 396 yards and four scores, while Harrell added six catches for 126 yards and a touchdown. Miller chipped in seven receptions for 97 yards at tight end.

Ragsdale saw the majority of his action in the defensive backfield and on special teams as he tallied 29 tackles and recovered a fumble.

“We’ve got some new faces since we graduated quite a few,” Moore said. “We’ve got a few that were with us last year and we’ve got quite a few faces that are going to get their first action. They played last year in some JV tournaments, but this will be their first varsity look.

“We want everyone to improve each week throughout the summer. We’ve gotten to practice the last couple of weeks and we’re starting to look better. Hopefully we come out and compete hard. If we compete hard, good things will happen.”

As for the Gatesville tournament, the Lions will compete in Pool B with traditional TAPPS power Waco Reicher, Prosper and Burnet — which Brownwood has faced in each of the last two seasons and will open the 2008 campaign against on Aug. 30 at the Alamodome.

“It’s neat to play an opponent you’ve got in the fall from a competitive stand point,” Moore said. “You get to see what kind of skill players they put on field compared to what we’ve got, then you just go out and compete. We’ll see them on the field in the Alamodome the first week and that’ll be a fun game and a neat atmosphere for both teams, so this will be a little preview.”

The Waco Reicher Cougars, who the Lions play first at 9 a.m. Saturday, qualified for the 3A and under state tournament at China Spring two weeks ago. The Cougars were paired with Burnet in pool play that week as well, and the Bulldogs’ only win of the day came against Reicher.

“I’m glad our first game is against someone that is already qualified,” Moore said. “That will tell us real quick how close we are.”

The Prosper Eagles — who have never advanced to the 7-on-7 state tournament — are a member of District 9-3A and reached the second round of the playoffs while finishing with an 8-4 overall record last season.

If the Lions win their pool, they will face either Wimberley, McGregor, Fairfield or Rockdale out of Pool A in the tournament semifinals, and a win there would lock up a state berth for Brownwood.

The other half of the bracket consists of Pool C teams Gatesville, China Spring — also a state qualifier — Florence and the McLennan County Juvenile Detention Center, along with Pool D teams Jarrell, Moody, Marlin and Riesel.