Brownwood Lion senior A.J. McCarty is headed from one football program that made significant strides in 2019 to another, as on Wednesday morning he signed a national letter intent to play football for the Baylor Bears — the Big 12 runners-up who will meet Georgia in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Day.

McCarty verbally committed to Baylor in June and has never wavered on that decision.

“It's been Baylor ever since I first verbally committed,” McCarty said. “I never changed my mind even though other coaches have talked to me. It feels amazing actually being able to sign and have it all over with. Not having to stress and worry about it is a good feeling.”

Originally recruited by Baylor to play cornerback, McCarty said he could wind up at receiver, where he made his greatest impact for the Lions.

“As of right now (cornerback) is still the plan, but they really don't know for sure,” McCarty said. “At first I was going to be a cornerback but now I'm listed as an athlete, so I don't know if I'm going to be cornerback or receiver.”

McCarty finished his high school career with 140 receptions for 2,590 yards and 26 touchdowns in three varsity seasons at Brownwood, while amassing 65 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, with one interception.

As a sophomore, McCarty earned district newcomer of the year honors, tallying 39 catches for 785 yards with nine touchdowns. McCarty earned first-team all-district honors as a receiver during his junior campaign with 57 catches for 779 yards and six touchdowns, while also recording 18 tackles. District accolades have not been revealed yet this season with defending state champion La Vega looking for a repeat later this week, but McCarty grabbed 44 catches for 1,026 yards and 11 touchdowns, while compiling 47 tackles with 1.5 for loss, and an interception.

Brownwood Lions head coach Sammy Burnett said of McCarty, “It's an outstanding day for him and an outstanding day for our program. He's worked hard for four years and he's a multi-sport athlete that's set the tone for what we're trying to do here in Brownwood. For him to able to sign with Baylor and continue his football career and possibly his track career is special for him, his family and for the program.”

The Lions and Baylor followed similar trajectories this season as Brownwood went from a four-win team to 11 victories and the third round of the playoffs. Baylor, meanwhile, was 1-11 two years ago, won a bowl game last season and this year lost just two games by a combined nine points to Big 12 champion Oklahoma.

“It's amazing when you go back two years and they were 1-11 and now they're 11-2,” McCarty said of Baylor's progression under head coach Matt Rhule. “It's a total change and being able to follow them all through the football season has been amazing. Going to watch some of their games, I'm ready to be there.”

As for the Lions' 11-2 campaign in 2019, McCarty said, “It meant a lot because we haven't made it past the first round since I was on varsity. My senior year, to progress and go two rounds deeper than we ever have was a great feeling for me and my team. I can only thank the coaches because they put in a lot of hard work for us to be successful.”

McCarty has been a four-sport athlete all four years in high school, participating in football, basketball, baseball and track — where he earned the Class 4A boys triple jump state championship this past spring.

Whether McCarty continues his track career at Baylor remains to be seen, though it sounded less likely Wednesday.

“I've thought about it and it's still open, but getting into college with time management and all the extra work, I don't know if I'm going to run track or not,” McCarty said. “I may take that time to relax and prepare for the next season.”

As for his high school career in general, which still has five months remaining, McCarty said, “It's meant a whole lot. I've been in four sports my whole high school career. I've played in a lot of high school games and I think I've accomplished a lot trying to help out each team. Being able to be a part of all those things has been amazing. I couldn't be happier with the decision I made as a freshman to play all those sports.”

Looking ahead to his time at Baylor, McCarty said, “I hope to accomplish a lot. Everybody wants to go and win a national championship and I hope I am able to help the team do that. For myself, I want to get to the next level. After progressing from high school to college, I'm going to try and progress from college to the NFL next so I'm going to try and prepare myself for that.”