After reaching the Class 3A Division II regional semifinals last year and snapping a 12-year playoff-win drought, the Brady High School football team will try to duplicate that success in 2022.
Brady finished 8-4 overall and 4-1 in district season. The Bulldogs finished in a three-way tie for the district championship.
The Bulldogs return 13 starters -- seven on offense and six on defense.
Texas Football magazine picks Brady to finish third in District 2-3A Division II behind state-ranked Early and Wall, which are each dropping from 3A D-I.
Brady head coach Shay Easterwood says he's got a hungry group of players again in 2022.
"The first thing is, they're not satisfied," Easterwood said. "They're not leaning on last year's success whatsoever. The thing that they're using as motivation is to stay humble and hungry. There's been several times with this group of young guys that had a lot of player-led stuff.
"They'll text me in the evening saying, 'Hey coach, have you got a football that we can use? I'm going to go throw routes, I'm going to go do this and I'm going to go do that.' I really think that their success (in reaching the 7-on-7 Division III state final) further enhanced their bond. I feel like this group is special."
Easterwood provided an example of that.
"(Monday) morning, we started the practice really early and our running backs coach came over to me and said, 'Coach, this is the best group of running backs we've had since we've been here, and I'm not talking about just skill-wise.' " Easterwood said.
"He said, 'I got over there and they were already doing the drills by themselves and they were giving great effort and there wasn't any missing a beat and they were going hard.' That's a testament to their leadership, so we feel like our leadership is strong."
The Bulldogs should have a lot of firepower on offense again.
Senior Hayden Baronet is a third-year starter at quarterback. He has two proven running backs in J.D. Ibarra and Zeke Jones.
"(Jones) is the fast and quick guy, and I'm the big, strong, get-through-the-hole guy," Ibarra said. "Our quarterback, he's got experience and we've all been with him since pee-wee football, so we all have that bond."
The receiving corps is solid with playmakers like Keegan Farris, Izzy Morales and Isaiah Tarr.
Baronet feels confident with the kind of skills players he has around him.
"I think it's some of the best we've had in a long time," the Bulldogs QB said. "Anybody on the field, skill-wise, can make plays, so we've got to focus on getting the ball to them and in space and let them make plays."
Those guys can't do their jobs without the support of a strong offensive line.
Kevin Avila, a mammoth 6-foot-3, 313-pound tackle, says the O-line is coming together.
"I'm actually pretty confident because I've been gathering a group of guys on the offensive line and working out with them and trying to get them stronger and faster," Avila said.
"And they've developed a lot since our first practice of two-a-days. I think it's going to be a pretty exciting year to see how far they come, and I think we'll be able to move the ball more efficiently."
A lof of those same players on offense will be counted on heavily on the other side of the ball as well.
Tarr has been a top-three tackler for the Bulldogs at linebacker since his sophomore year, but he's not resting on his laurels.
"You can't ever lose motivation, no matter how good you are," Tarr said. "You can always get better and there's always room for improvement."
The Bulldogs have a leadership council that includes seniors Baronet, Ibarra, Avila, Farris, Morales and Tarr, along with the junior Jones.
"We met seven times this summer, just kind of talking about what it looks like and raising the standards," Easterwood said. "We don't want to be one-hit wonders around here.
"Most of those seniors, their expectations are three rounds or more and that's what they want. That's a good sign and that's a testament to those guys' leadership and their work ethic and buying into what we're asking them to do."
The Bulldogs know they'll have their hands full trying to make a run at another district championship, but they know they're capable of doing it.
"It's definitely going to be a knock-down, dragout district-wise," Easterwood said. "There's not an easy opponent on the schedule. There's a lot of good coaches in our district and a lot of good athletes in our district and a lot of good teams, and a couple of teams dropping from Division I down to Division II.
"For us to be district champions, we have the opportunity to do that. We have the skill set and the weapons around us to be able to do that. It's going to be our execution level and whether our line can jell and things like that."
Brady will open the season on the road against Comanche on Aug. 26. The district opener is scheduled for Oct. 7 at TLCA.
Three of the Bulldogs' five nondistrict opponents are ranked in the top 18 in the state.
"As far as that goes, that will definitely get us ready for our tough district," Easterwood said.
As for preseason prognostications, the Bulldogs want to prove that they're better than a third-place finisher.
"I think that we should be No. 1," Farris said. "I don't like our position there."
District: 2-3A Division II
Head coach: Shay Easterwood (23-41; all at Brady)
Last year’s record: 8-4, 4-1 district
Last district title/playoff appearance: 2021/2021
Stadium: Bulldog Stadium
Returning lettermen: 15
Returning off./def. starters: 7/6
Base offense: Power spread
Base defense: 3-4
Team strength: Experience, speed
Team weakness: Inexperience on offensive line
Players to watch
RB/DB JD Ibarra (6-1, 195), RB/DB Zeke Jones (5-10, 160), QB/DB Hayden Baronet (6-3, 165), WR/DB Keegan Farris (5-11, 150), WR/DB Izzy Morales (5-11, 148), RB/LB Mason Harris, RB/LB Isaiah Tarr, WR/DB Joseph Garza, OL/DL Devon Taylor, OL/DL Kevin Avila, OL/DL Garrett Everett
Aug. 26 at Comanche
Sept. 2 Mason
Sept. 9 at Coleman
Sept. 16 at Dublin
Sept. 23 Christoval
Oct. 7 at San Angelo TLCA*
Oct. 14 Early*
Oct. 21 at Ballinger*
Oct. 28 at Grape Creek*
Nov. 4 Wall*
San Angelo TLCA W 37-6
Comanche W 46-19
Dublin L 12-38
Ozona L 14-28
Ballinger W 54-41
Sonora L 22-28
Grape Creek W 34-27
Ingram Moore W 49-6
Bangs W 42-14
Anthony W 57-14
Stanton W 21-13
Lubbock Roosevelt L 14-50
This article originally appeared on San Angelo Standard-Times: Brady Bulldogs not satisfied with last year's football success