Shying away from stiff competition has never been a trademark of the Brownwood Lions football program. From scheduling traditional postseason powerhouses in non-district action to going head-to-head against a pair of state finalists in district play a year ago, the Lions have seen it all.

Therefore, it should come as no surprise the Lions are relishing the opportunity to test their mettle against some of the state’s premier 7-on-7 programs in Pool J of the 64-team 7-on-7 state championship tournament — which begins later today at Texas A&M’s Penberthy Fields.

The Lions — who qualified for their ninth consecutive trip to state by reaching the championship game of the Abilene state qualifying tournament on June 16 — are paired with the only two-time state champion in the 10 year history of the event — Baytown Lee. Also in the pool is Wolfforth Frenship, which is no stranger to the Lions, and the Plano Wildcats.

According to the high school football Web site texasprepinsider.com, all four members of Pool J are considered among the top 16 teams in the field. Baytown Lee is ranked No. 1 among 7-on-7 state qualifiers, Frenship is No. 6, the Lions are No. 15 and Plano is tabbed No. 16.

“All three are good programs and all three have had success both in 7-on-7 and the regular season,” said Lions offensive coordinator and 7-on-7 coordinator Mitch Moore. “It’s a tough pool, but there’s not a pool down there that won’t be tough. There’s 64 teams that either finished first or second at one of the 32 qualifying tournaments. The size of the school doesn’t matter, we’ve done well against 5As and 4As. There’s not a team, including us, that can’t go down and win the thing if you’re playing the best you can at the right time.”

Brownwood will open pool play action against Plano at 2 p.m. today, followed by contests against Baytown Lee at 4 p.m. and Wolfforth Frenship at 6 p.m. The two teams with the best records in each of the 16 pools will advance to the 32-team single elimination championship bracket competition on Saturday, while the third and fourth-place teams will compete in the 32-team consolation bracket.

“There are people looking at us and thinking it’s a tough pool because Brownwood’s in it and we’ve done well in 7-on-7 the past few summers, and they’re aware of our run last year in the playoffs,” Moore said. “I’m hoping we’re getting that kind of respect out there.”

The Baytown Lee Ganders won the 7-on-7 state tournament in 2001 and again in 2005. A year ago, Lee reached the semifinals before falling to Rockwall. The Ganders punched their ticket for College Station by winning the Manvel state qualifier. Due to their past success at state, the Ganders are viewed by some high school football experts as the tournament favorite this weekend.

“We played Baytown Lee two or three summers ago and had an opportunity to win the game with about 10 seconds left, but a ball deflected off one of our players and they intercepted it to win,” Moore said. “I think they went on to win the tournament after that. I know they’re going to be extremely athletic and they’ve done well there in the past.”

Players to watch for the Ganders include quarterback Josh Jones and receivers Michael Mahan, Kevin Craft, Jarvis Moore, Reggie Butler and Thomas Bates.

Frenship captured the Amarillo Caprock tournament championship, while Plano was the runner-up at the Colleyville Heritage qualifier.

“Plano, everybody has heard of Plano and the success in their program,” Moore said. “That’ll be fun to go down and compete against them. We’re familiar with Frenship, playing them a few years back in the semifinals. They had a good run this past year and were the ones Waco High beat in the semifinals.”

Frenship features quarterback Seth Doege — who led Crane to an area playoff victory over Bangs in 2005 before transferring — who will be seeking out targets Michael Connor, Nick Hanslik, Trey Whaley, Eddrick Wiggins and Geron Moore.

Plano — which along with Brownwood, Celina and Southlake Carroll are the only Texas high school football programs to win seven state championships — will be led by quarterback Michael Sheffield and receivers Rex Burkhead and Kris Lott.

Other notable programs to reach the 7-on-7 state tournament include Brownwood’s District 16-4A rival Killeen — which will compete in Pool F with El Paso Montwood, Katy Seven Lakes and Lakeview Centennial — and archrival Stephenville - which will be in Pool P along with Cy-Falls, Keller Central and McAllen Rowe.

Brownwood is playing its best ball of the summer heading into the state tournament. The Lions, who won 12 of 15 state qualifying tournament games, carry a three-game win streak from the June 23 Brownwood tournament into today’s pool play opener.

“I think at our tournament we were playing the best we have all summer. We hit full stride, but we’ve had a couple weeks off,” Moore said. “We had a tune-up and worked out against Early on Wednesday and that helped us knock off some rust because we’ve only been together a couple of times since the Brownwood tournament. Hopefully we’ll continue from where we were at during our tournament and continue to get better this weekend.”

It took the Lions a few weeks to establish their chemistry as the baseball team’s run to the regional semifinals prevented several members of the team from competing in 7-on-7 activities. But Moore is pleased with the progression the Lions have shown over the last few weeks.

“Offensively, we’ve come a long way in our throwing and catching, especially in route running and timing with one another,” Moore said. “We’ve got a lot of guys back on varsity that had a lot of playing time last year, but didn’t catch a lot balls during the season. We’ve got several guys that have had good summers and we’re looking for them to step up so we have multiple weapons on Friday nights.

“I’m most pleased with the way the receivers have come on and caught the football, along with (quarterback) Casey Pachall’s continued development throwing and making good decisions. He’s coming on and still developing, but we’ve still got room to improve before the fall.”

Though 7-on-7 is known for being an offensive game, Moore stated the defense has made quite an impact as well.

“Defensively, we’re going to be an aggressive defense and anybody that’s watched us play 7-on-7 knows we play aggressive,” Moore said. “For no contact in 7-on-7, we’re right there. It’s probably good we don’t have pads on because some of those guys would get their heads knocked off by some of our kids.”

The Lions’ stance on 7-on-7 has always been it is a program designed to enhance the fall season, but bringing home a 7-on-7 state championship would provide a great jump start for two-a-days, which begin Aug. 6.

“We’re not going down there just to make a good showing,” Moore said. “Any time you’re in a tournament, naturally you want to win it. It wouldn’t mean much for the fall, but it would still be a boost, especially for our offense.”