It wasn’t that long ago when Bronson football was considered among some of the worst teams in the state.
However, the Class 1A Eagles have turned the corner under head football coach Russell Holley.
Holley, who enters his second season as the head coach, was an assistant when the Eagles finished 4-6 in 2019. That was on the heels of an 0-10 season in 2018.
In fact, Bronson was just 2-37 from 2015-2018. They were outscored 485-58 during that last winless season.
But that changed, and so did the Eagles’ futility on the gridiron, in just a couple of seasons. Last year, Bronson made the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
The Eagles then beat Crescent City on the road to win their first playoff game in the 69-year history of the program. The following week they hosted Wildwood for their first home playoff game ever and lost, finishing with a record of 6-5.
“Had we not lost two teams on our schedule that we had to replace [due to COVID-19] with teams that were better, we could have won eight games,” Holley said. “I think COVID brought us together. We didn’t lose a single player for practice or a game due to COVID varsity-wise.”
A rare luxury for the Eagles last year, likely because they had such a large roster (55 for the playoff game), they didn’t start any players both ways.
Bronson plans to start a JV team this year and take advantage of the FHSAA’s 6-quarter rule, which would allow JV players to play a full game followed by two quarters of varsity ball. Holley said he hopes to “have 100 kids in the program at a 1A school.”
The challenge this year is replacing All Area running back Xavier Guyton, who led the Eagles with over 1,300 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns last year.
“We had one of the better running backs around,” Holley noted. “He’s going to be hard to replace, but I think we’re headed in the right direction.”
Brent Banfield, who worked under Hal Mumme, is the new offensive coordinator. The Eagles are hoping to open up the offense.
“We’re going to be doing a little ‘air raid,’ which is a simple scheme with short passes that you make adjustments at pre-snap,” Holley said. “Our quarterback has a strong arm and he’s very smart. We’ve got receivers.”
Holley noted senior wide receiver Jesse Williams has a 4.0 GPA and could be a favorite target for junior quarterback Riley Bray.
“Last year we were a running team, but this year we are going to throw the ball a lot more,” said Williams, who will also play free safety. “Everybody is eager to get back on the field.”
Ke’Tron Thomas, Aneury Montero, Justin Cohoon, Landen Gibbs, Jahziel Freeman, Donteau Jenkins and Jermaine Griffin are skill guys with potential, Holley said.
“If we get the ball in their hands, they can do something with it,” he added.
Thomas said they are hoping to carry over the momentum from last year’s success.
“It gives us confidence and momentum going into this year,” he said. “Just knowing that we can do it and wanting to get better.”
Defensively, junior middle linebacker Matthew Miller is back after leading the Eagles with 46 tackles, including a team-leading nine tackles for a loss.
“Our defense has been our strong suit for the past two years,” Miller said. “We’re good. We put in a new little scheme and everything seems to be going well.”
The Eagles will play a challenging schedule early, opening the season on the road against Class 4A Tenoroc (Lakeland), followed by a home game against 6A Belleview. Bronson closes the regular season at home against 4A Umatilla on Nov. 5.
“We’re trying to build a program and learn how to win games,” Holley said. “We have to continue to expand our roster and we have to have kids continue to buy into the program in order for us to be successful.”
Bronson gets its first fall test in the Kickoff Classic on Friday, Aug. 20, against Trenton.