The Brownwood Lions' first football game under new head coach and athletic director Sammy Burnett is five months away, but the seeds have already been planted for the 2018 campaign and beyond.

Hired on Feb. 22, Burnett — a 1988 graduate of Brownwood High School — has quickly left his mark on his new position at his alma mater.

“I feel like the transition is going really well,” Burnett said. “The kids are buying into what we're doing, really working hard and buying into the ideology of what I'm trying to bring in and the philosophies that we have to set the tempo and tone for the future. The kids are really open and willing to listen, learn, adapt and grow. We're instilling the work ethic and sense of urgency that we have to have to be successful. They're being moldable, letting me come in and change the ideology of how we do things, what we're doing, what I expect from them, the sense of urgency I expect, and I think they're yearning for that. I'm really pleased with them and I think they're pleased with what they're seeing, the consistency, the leadership, so I'm really excited about what's going on.”

In head coaching stops at Class 2A Honey Grove and most recently 3A Farmersville, Burnett produced a 58-32 record with seven postseason trips in eight seasons. Brownwood opens the Burnett coaching era on Aug. 31 at Gordon Wood Stadium against Class 3A Division I state finalist Brock, and the Lions are currently wrapping up their first phase of offseason work.

“We're ending the first phase of our offseason and getting ready to go to the second phase where we're lifting two days a week and doing big four on those two days and then going out and starting to implement some of our scheme and system,” Burnett said. “Our kids are excited about that and ready for a different phase of offseason.”

Burnett broke down the phases of his offseason program, which the Lions — who in 2018 will be under their third head coach in four seasons — are experiencing for the first time.

“The first phase of offseason is more about setting the tone, discipline, doing everything to a T, the little things matter, focusing a lot on the weights, and getting stronger, working on the feet, getting quicker,” Burnett said. “Basically just developing our athletes as much as possible with strength and conditioning, agility, footwork that kind of stuff. You're not very athletic if you're not strong and don't have great feet so we're really working on those areas.

“In the second phase we combine our workouts. In the first phase you can go big two, which would be like bench/squat, power cling/deadlift, with auxiliary, then in the second phase we're combining those where we do big four and still continue our footwork. Then we're going to alternate days where we're going out on the field getting in better cardiovascular shape, we're going to run and work on our form.

“At some point after area and regional track we'll start working on the last phase which is continuing to do our workouts and alternate days where we're going out there and starting to install our scheme for football. Those that aren't football players will continue to work on their skills in their sports as well.”

When the 2018 football season commences, the Lions will find themselves in a new district — 5-4A Division I along with Stephenville, Gatesville, China Spring and Waco La Vega. Considered by many to be the toughest Class 4A Division I district in the state, the Lions will be attempting to capture their first district championship since 2010.

“I'm setting expectations and setting the bar high for them,” Burnett said. ”I tell them everyday that's not going to change, they're going to meet that. They're working really hard to adapt and to grow. We're putting ego aside and trying to develop that delayed gratification – do the work now and we'll receive the reward later. We're working on our culture and changing the attitude and mentality of what's going to happen today and what the future's going to hold for them. We've already set the foundation for that, the kids are understanding and accepting that and I see the growth in them everyday, they continue to get better and uplift others around them. They're concerned about serving those around them, not worrying so much about themselves, so I think they're buying into what I'm trying to preach to them.”

In preparing for his first season as head football coach, Burnett is piecing together the coaching staff for 2018 as well. Among the additions so far are assistant head coach David Jones — another Brownwood graduate and former Ballinger head coach who most recently served as linebackers coach at Plainview last season — along with defensive coordinator Brett Mouser and offensive coordinator Chase Adams.

“We're bringing in David Jones to be our assistant head coach and Brett Mouser has committed, he's fixing to sign a contract to be our defensive coordinator. He's coming from Brenham where he held the same spot,” Burnett said. “I brought Chase Adams in who was the offensive coordinator at Farmersville, he'll be in from day to day. I have a couple more positions that I've offered to a couple of people, they're just seeing if it's the right fit. If not, those jobs are posted and we'll fill them with the best candidates we can find to fit in our system, scheme and philosophy.”

From the athletic director perspective of his job, Burnett has attended as many sport events as possible this spring and has been impressed by what he's seen from the Lions and Lady Lions, as well as the coaching staffs.

“I see kids that are competing hard, great passion in what they do, pride in who they are and where they come from,” Burnett said. “I'm really pleased with the track program, boys and girls, and what they're doing. Our soccer teams, both advanced to the state playoffs, and our baseball and softball teams are excelling. They're very prideful and they're doing the work and receiving the rewards. I've seen them in opportunities where they face adversity and I've them where they face success and the demeanor they carry through those times. You have to be stable and confident in who you are regardless of the situation you're in.

“I'm real observant and I'm always watching and evaluating and I see some really good things from our kids. I learn as much about our kids and our program in adversity as I do success. How are we responding to adversity? How are we responding to a loss? How are we responding to win? Are we humble in our victories and are we trying to gain knowledge in those losses? Are we carrying a bad attitude? I see a lot of support from team members, a lot of uplifting and high energy from the coaches, and I don't see a lot of degrading which we don't do. The coaches are coaching hard, leading well, and the kids are responding.”

While Burnett is pleased with the start to his tenure at Brownwood High, he also acknowledged completely establishing his philosophy and approach throughout the athletic program will take time.

“It takes more than a week or two, or months, it takes years, but what a great foundation we have right now,” Burnett said. “Just visiting with the coaches and setting the expectations for the coaches and giving them guidance and leadership, I see them extending that and going out and trying to execute what I'm asking them to do. I believe in leadership and I believe they need to know what direction we're headed. If you give them the leadership and direction they'll take the reins and take off from there. I'm really pleased with what's going on right now.”