Brownwood Lions hopeful for smoother football season in 2021

Mike Lee
Special to the Bulletin
The Brownwood Lions prepare to kick off against Midland Greenwood on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, at Gordon Wood Stadium in Brownwood.

The Brownwood Lions are still a year away from having across-the-board participation in every class the way fourth-year head coach Sammy Burnett envisions. But the hopes for this season remain high.

“Our expectations are always high,” said Burnett, 19-14 in three seasons at Brownwood and 77-46 in 11 seasons overall. “We always want to play hard, play smart and play with character. If we do those things, the rest will take care of itself.

“We’re not blessed with a lot of size and talent. We have to outwork and out-physical everybody. That’s our MO (method of operation). We have to outwork other teams during the offseason and during the in-season.”

Brownwood finished 4-6 during a 2020 season that included two quarantines, a reshuffled district schedule, and a revolving-door lineup – because of COVID and injuries. Burnett missed two games while in quarantine, and the entire Brownwood team was quarantined at one point during district. The Lions played three games in 11 days in a reshuffled District 5-4A Division I schedule, but eventually finished 2-2 and extended their playoff streak to 12 years.

Brownwood lost to Kennedale in bidistrict.

“I guess you could say it was a character-building exercise, but I wouldn’t want to do it every year,” Burnett said of the COVID challenges of 2020.

With a smallish senior class of 13 players, the Lions will rely on several underclassmen for the second straight season. Of the top 12 prospects on offense, four are seniors and eight are juniors.

Brownwood receiver Jason Jackson (18) goes up to make a catch during Friday’s game against Wylie at Gordon Wood Stadium in Brownwood on Sept. 25, 2020. The Bulldogs won 28-7 to open their year while the Lions fell to 2-3.

The top returning offensive threat is receiver Jason Jackson, a 6-foot-3, 170-pound junior who last year had 665 yards receiving, averaged 20.8 yards per catch, and scored nine touchdowns.

“We knew Jason had the potential,” Burnett said. “He had a great opportunity to play at the varsity level as a sophomore and put his name on the map. He made some big, explosive plays.”

Senior Elias Huerta-Doud (6-1, 175) also returns at receiver after catching 15 passes last year. Other newcomer prospects at receiver include 6-4 junior Thad Hines, 2020 JV quarterback Case Markham, and junior Owen Huntsinger.

Konlyn Anderson, a 6-0, 190-pound junior, is scheduled to start at running back. In one start last year, Anderson rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown against state-ranked Waco La Vega. He finished last season with 287 yards and three TDs in limited action.

Junior Chance Jones (5-11, 170) started 2020 at quarterback as a sophomore, but after an injury, he returned later in the season and played linebacker. Jones is back at quarterback, where last year he was 42-of-68 passing for 433 yards and two touchdowns.

Lions quarterback Chance Jones prepares to pass in the game with China Spring.

“You can see a difference this year in his confidence and maturity, plus he’s three inches taller,” Burnett said of Jones. “We worked hard in the offseason on his mechanics and delivery. He’s still young as a quarterback. He only played two games his freshman year because of an injury, and then he was starting on the varsity as a sophomore.”

The offensive line is anchored by third-year starter Ethan Pesina (5-8, 240) at center. He’ll be joined by seniors Alex Reyna (5-9, 245) and Brandon Still (6-3, 270), along with juniors Slayde Espinoza (6-0, 265) and Damian Sanchez (6-2, 300). Reyna and Espinoza gained varsity experience last season.

Brownwood averaged 25.7 points per game last year.

The Lions are adding a new twist to their offense, opting for a faster tempo between plays. It’s not a decision that’s made without significant planning in the offseason.

“It’s an opportunity for us to put pressure on the defense, and take away what they are able to call between plays,” Burnett said of the up-tempo pace. “In the fourth quarter, we hope it’s to our advantage because of our energy level.

“To do this, we’ve focused on getting in better shape. We had great numbers for our strength and conditioning program in the summer. We’re not asking our big linemen to run 40 yards. We’re asking them for a 6- or 7-yard burst.”

Wylie running back Trey Gomez (22) extends for extra yards as Brownwood’s Zaiden Lopez (50) wraps him up during Friday’s game at Gordon Wood Stadium in Brownwood on Sept. 25, 2020. The Bulldogs won 28-7 to open their year while the Lions fell to 2-3.

Defensively, the Lions started seven sophomores during some district games last season. Brownwood allowed 35 points per game last year, including a season-low 14 points by district opponents Alvarado and Waxahachie Life. On the flip side, the Lions’ defense allowed 55 points to Lampasas, 62 to La Vega, and 59 to Stephenville.

“We had to play a lot of young players last year (because of injuries and COVID) that weren’t ready. We got pushed around because our young kids weren’t developed,” said Brownwood assistant head coach David Jones, who’s in charge of the defense.

“We got stronger and put on some good weight in the offseason. They went through a tough season and gained some invaluable experience last year.”

The Lions are still young on defense, with only three seniors listed among this year’s top 14 prospects. Eight juniors and three sophomores are expected to start or see a lot of playing time.

Brownwood High School's Taylor Bessent (27) and Dryden Anderson (26) focus in on a Stephenville ball carrier during a District 5-4A Division I football game at Gordon Wood Stadium Friday Oct. 2, 2020, in Brownwood.

Returning starters on defense include junior linebacker Dryden Anderson (5-11, 180), who made 43 tackles last year; junior safety Taylor Bessent (6-4, 190), who had 36 tackles; senior end Christian Chambers (6-2, 205), who had 17 tackles and a fumble recovery; junior end Zaiden Lopez (5-9, 205), who had 14 tackles and a fumble recovery; and junior safety Jordan Leach, (6-0, 185), who made 11 tackles.

Junior cornerback Noah Barron and junior inside linebacker Brandon Holland each started two games last season.

New defensive starters include Markham at cornerback, senior outside linebacker Quentin Thompson, junior inside linebacker Azariah Dillard, sophomore inside linebacker Jaylon Brown (5-11, 195), sophomore nose guard Quinten McCarty (6-0, 255), and sophomore end Cole Miller (6-2, 225).

“We’ve got about 20 guys with the potential to play on defense,” Coach Jones said. “That means competition for playing time, and we like that.”

Sophomore Junior Martinez returns at kicker after making 30 of 34 extra-point attempts last year.

Brownwood is picked to finish fourth in District 5-4A DI in most preseason polls behind La Vega, 9-3 last year, Midlothian Heritage (9-3), and Stephenville (6-6). Alvarado, 2-8 last year, and Waxahachie Life (2-7) complete the six-team district.

“We open district with two home games against Heritage and La Vega,” Burnett said. “If we could win both of those games, or even one of them, it would be huge for us moving forward in district.”

2021 Brownwood football schedule

Date                Opponent                               Time

Aug. 27           Lampasas                                7:30 p.m.

Sept. 3             at Midland Greenwood           7 p.m.

Sept. 10           at China Spring                       7:30 p.m.

Sept. 17           Burnet                                     7:30 p.m.

Sept. 24           at Abilene Wylie                     7 p.m.

Oct. 1              Open

Oct. 8              Midlothian Heritage*             7:30 p.m.

Oct. 15            Waco La Vega*                      7:30 p.m.

Oct. 22            at Alvarado*                           7:30 p.m.

Oct. 29            Waxahachie Life*                   7:30 p.m.

Nov. 5             at Stephenville*                      7:30 p.m.

*District 5-4A Division I games