Traditions are plentiful when it comes to the Brownwood High football program, and one of those traditions continued Wednesday as three Lions signed national letters of intent to continue their playing careers at the collegiate level.
Seniors Kevin Vaccaro, Ethan Horton and Stehl Ratliff signed and faxed their letters to the University of Texas, Tarleton State University and McMurry University, respectively, as a morning ceremony was held at Warren Gym.
“This is a culmination of years and years of hard work and dedication by these guys,” said Lions head football coach Bob Shipley. “There are so many kids out there who are great athletes, and it’s so competitive to be able to get a college scholarship. You can’t do it on ability alone, you have to have great work ethic and self discipline. Any time you get even one signing it’s fun, but to have three is something pretty phenomenal. Any time the game was on the line, we’d call on these three guys to come through for us. They did it not only this year, but in years past.
“It’s really a proud moment for us to have these three guys come forward and earn a scholarship to play football at the next level. It’s an inspiration to the younger guys, as well. They’re watching them and realize it’s an opportunity they could have, too, if they work hard.”
Vaccaro — a second-team all-state selection at defensive back by the Associated Press and honorable mention all-state pick by the Texas Sports Writers Association — finished the season with 101 tackles including six for loss, three fumble recoveries, three interceptions and five passes defended. Vaccaro will join his brother, Kenny, and former Brownwood teammate Jaxon Shipley on the Texas roster next season.
“Who wouldn’t want to play with their brother their senior year in college?,” Vaccaro said. “It doesn’t happen much, so it’s going to mean everything. I know all the players on the team and I’ve been down there a lot with Kenny, so I’ve built relationships with everyone. It’s going to be fun. I want to thank my mom for making us work hard since we were little, my coaches and everyone who’s helped me.”
Vaccaro is expected to contribute on special teams early in his career as the Longhorns are loaded in the secondary for the 2012 season.
“They have a lot of talented DBs, so I’m going to have to work hard to get playing time,” Vaccaro said. “I’ve also talked with (secondary) Coach (Duane) Akina about special teams.”
Added Shipley, “It’s an incredible privilege to have three guys who have worn the Brownwood uniform playing for the Texas Longhorns, and I really hope one of the radio stations around here picks up the Longhorns so people can listen to them.”
Horton — an AP honorable mention all-state outside linebacker who tallied 64 tackles with seven for loss, five sacks, three forced fumbles, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries — chose Division II Tarleton over Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston and Abilene Christian, among others.
“I felt comfortable at Tarleton,” Horton said. “It’s pretty close to home and even though I had other offers, not many of those were close and I felt better with Tarleton. I’m pretty happy with my decision.”
Horton added the prospect of playing immediately for Tarleton, as well as shifting from outside linebacker to inside linebacker, were also appealing.
“Hopefully, I’ll be starting,” Horton said. “They want me on the field my freshman year and are expecting big things. They are graduating a lot of linebackers, so they want me to have a big role.”
Horton also credited the Brownwood coaching staff with helping him reach the college level.
“Playing at Brownwood has made everything possible,” Horton said. “I don’t know that I’d be at this point without the coaching staff. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I’ve been accepted like I was family and I’ll always remember that and appreciate that. I also want to thank my parents, who have sacrificed everything for me to be here.”
Ratliff — a TSWA honorable mention all-state running back who rushed for a team-high 1,353 yards and 25 touchdowns, while catching a team-best 37 passes for 316 yards with two trips to the end zone — was a four-year lettermen at Brownwood. He chose soon-to-be Division II McMurry over West Texas A&M, Angelo State and Abilene Christian.
“I had four options and once I got to know each coach and each school, the choice was easy,” Ratliff said. “McMurry is a really good home and I’m not having to change my colors, so I’m excited about that. Going Division II is going to be unbelievable. They’ve proven themselves really well the last few years under (head) Coach (Hal) Mumme. This is a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to part of something on the up swing and McMurry University is.”
Ratliff also thanked his parents and credited playing at Brownwood with instilling the work ethic within him to reach the next level.
“I want to thank my dad for all the hard work he made me do, the little things, and my mom for being out there trying to pull him off me,” Ratliff joked. “I also want to thank my teammates and Coach Shipley for sure.
“Playing at Brownwood, all the getting up at 6 in the morning, staying late after practice, the hard work and dedication, all that paid off because getting to the next level, it takes that. Now I’m excited to open a new page in my life.”