Both the Brownwood Lions and the Early Longhorns will take their first cracks at qualifying for the 7-on-7 Division II state tournament today as they compete in the Arlington Bowie qualifier.
The Lions are seeking their 10th straight appearance at the state tournament, and first under the Bob Shipley regime. Though the coaching staff has been revamped, the Lions’ 7-on-7 philosophy remains almost the same — compete as hard as you can, but the work is more important than the scoreboard.
“Our main goal is to qualify for state in one of our three tournaments, but we won’t let 7-on-7 be an indicator, good or bad, about our football team next year,” Shipley said. “I’ve seen a lot of teams look great in 7-on-7 and not win a football game in the fall, and I’ve seen teams that aren’t 7-on-7 teams do well in the fall. We’re just going to go out and do our thing. If we’re good enough to qualify, we will.”
Brownwood also will compete in the Tarleton state qualifier next Saturday in Stephenville, as well as hosting its own tournament on June 27. Shipley, as well as new offensive coordinator Jeff Merket and new defensive coordinator Chuck Howard, will be using the next three weekends to evaluate the Lions’ talent for the 2009 season.
“They don’t give out gold trophies at the end of 7-on-7, but this is an opportunity for our kids to go out and compete and run our offense and some of our defensive coverages,” Shipley said. “This gives all the kids a chance to show us what they can do without any preconceived ideas on our part about limiting kids based on what they’ve done before. We’re going to give them all a fair shot.”
Shipley expects 15 to 20 players to suit up for each qualifier, and Lions likely to take the field in Arlington include quarterback Graylon Brown, running backs Stehl Ratliff and Levi Perez, receivers Jaxon Shipley, Luke Chastain, Vance McShan, Cade Johnson, Dillon Ellis and Chris Cotton and defensive backs Kevin Vaccaro and Derek Longoria.
“One of the more interesting moves we’ve made is Derek Longoria from linebacker to safety,” Shipley said. “Not that 7-on-7 will dictate whether he will play there in the fall or not, but it gives him a chance to get some experience back there. Right now we’re going to start him out in two-a-days at safety and see how that works.”
Depth at the skill positions will be one of the biggest strengths for the Lions, who return just four starters from last year’s offense that averaged 39.1 points and 456.6 total yards — 282.4 passing and 174.2 rushing — per game in 2008.
“One nice thing about our football team is we have a lot of depth at our skill positions,” Shipley said. “There’s probably seven or eight receivers we can play, and seven or eight secondary guys we can play and not notice a whole lot of difference. We’ve got a lot of depth, so one guy not showing up is not going to spell doom for us as far as qualifying.”
The Lions also will likely utilize the running back more in their 7-on-7 state qualifiers than in years past, as Shipley stated Brownwood will run the exact same offensive plays it will during the regular season.
“We’re going to play four wideouts and a back in the backfield because that’s the way our offense is,” Shipley said. “Some people take the back out and put five receivers in there, but that’s not really what we want to do. We’ll be running safety valve routes out of the backfield like you would during the season. We don’t make up any special plays for 7-on-7.”
For the Early Longhorns, they too will be ushering in several new faces this fall.
Head coach Robbie Tindol is turning the reins of the offense over to quarterback Ethan Horton, one of several sophomores expected to make an impact both this summer and fall. Other players expected to have expanded roles for the Longhorns include Austin Baugh, Tucker King and Blanton Bowen, along with senior Thomas Aly.
“Our kids are in their third or fourth week of playing in the Abilene league and have yet to go to a state qualifying tournament,” Tindol said. “We’ve got three quick tournaments coming up, and we’re going to go out and see what we can do. We’ve got a young team, we’ve tried to keep the team together this summer, and we’re hoping we’ve got everybody back and are able to go full strength.”
While trips to the 7-on-7 state tournament — which will take place July 9-10 this year in College Station — are not commonplace for Early, Tindol wouldn’t mind the Longhorns beginning a new tradition. At the same time, Tindol also realizes the work is more beneficial than the reward in 7-on-7.
“This will give us some good work and we’re going to go out and play our best,” Tindol said. “If we make it fine, if we don’t we’ll just wait until August and get out there with the pads on.”
Early finds itself in Pool B of the 16-team qualifier along with Class 3A Division I state champion Prosper, Crandall and Dallas First Baptist.
Brownwood is slotted in Pool A along with Kaufman, Wills Point and Whitney.
Pool C is comprised of Dallas Greenhill, Pilot Point, Nevada Community and Maypearl, while Pool D is made up of Canton, Celina, Fort Worth All Saints and Melissa.
Action starts at 9 a.m. with pool play games, then the semifinals begin at 1:30 p.m. with the championship game to follow at 2:30 p.m. The winners of each pool will advance to the semifinals, while the two championship game qualifiers earn a trip to College Station.