Joe Dale Cary had enough experience under his belt that he could have chosen to go anywhere else to coach football for the 2022 season.
However, Brazoswood — a team who has been down on its luck in a tough district — was the school of his choice.
That choice ended up being the right one for all parties involved.
The Brazoswood football coaching staff turned a struggling program around and brought back excitement to a school and community by guiding the Bucs to their first playoff appearance in 10 years.
As part of its memorable season, the Brazoswood program snapped racked up the most wins in a season in 22 years and proved many outsiders of the Brazosport area wrong under the watchful eye of a new coach and staff.
The Bucs went 7-4, their first winning record since 2012 thanks to the hard work and leadership of 26 seniors.
The seven wins are the most in a single season since winning 10 games in 2009 under Dean DeAtley. The 448 points scored were the most in a single season since the 2009 squad put up 421.
Cary is the first coach in program history to make the playoffs in his first season with Brazoswood since LZ Bryan coached the first Brazoswood team in 1970.
“I feel like my strength is rebuilding programs that are a little down. It fits who I am,” Cary said.
The driving force behind B’wood’s success was a culture change. Cary said in an interview with The Facts’ during the football season that the definition of insanity was doing the same thing repeatedly, hoping for a different outcome. Cary brought in his staff, which included a new offensive identity and moving players around on defense.
The result? You know the story.
Cary tabbed Cameron DeBesse to run his offense.
DeBesse might be a familiar name throughout Brazosport ISD because he previously coached the quarterbacks at Brazosport High School.
That fact gave DeBesse a good understanding of the district. He also knew how to run a high-powered offense, which we had with the Exporters with Randon Fontenette at quarterback and Paul Woodard at running back.
“Coach Cary got hired on, and he was looking for a young offensive coordinator to coach quarterbacks,” he said. “He knew I was looking for an opportunity to be an offensive coordinator, and it all worked out.”
DeBesse spread system was a perfect fit for Brazoswood.
The Bucs had the quarterback in Isaac Ponce and an up-and-coming running back in Jose Trevino. The team also had weapons on the perimeter, with seniors Kade Bengtson and Cole Hagen and Anthony Trevino in the slot.
“I think it was a big change for Isaac specifically,” DeBesse said. “Jose was a freshman last year, so it was his first year on varsity. Isaac played varsity as a junior, and this year as a senior, it was a different type of offense than what he has done.
“They huddled up the year before and tried to control the clock, and we did the exact opposite. We were trying to play as fast as we could, and Isaac loved it, and that’s probably why we had the success that we had because he bought into the system pretty early.”
The Bucs’ offense had instant success to start the season.
Brazoswood averaged about 60 points a game and was listed as one of the top-scoring offenses in the state.
Trevino started out of the gate fast by scoring 11 of his 14 touchdowns through the season’s first five games. With the offensive success, it was no coincidence that the Bucs had its best start to a season since 2006.
“I think when you average 60 points a game, it is always going to be a little bit of a surprise,” DeBesse said. “We knew we had a chance to be a good football team. We have good players, a good quarterback and a lot of returning varsity players. But I don’t think we anticipated 60 points a game.”
Defensive coordinator William Calvert was a holdover from Danny Youngs’ staff, but his title changed from secondary coach to DC. Regardless, changes occurred on defense.
It began by moving cornerback Croix Rivera to linebacker and making the most out of the defense’s strengths, which were at linebacker and the secondary.
“In our defense, the one player considered the top defensive player usually plays the sam backer,” Calvert said. “So moving him there was No. 1 and then Mason Donovan, he played JV last year, we moved him from defensive end to outside linebacker. So that helped tremendously.”
Caleb Warren was the team’s middle linebacker and a rotation at weak linebacker with Ronnie Jones and sophomore Ethan Gaston. Injuries forced another tweak when Calvert inserted Braxton Welch as outside linebacker.
“He was one of our best defensive players, too,” Calvert said. “We knew he could play; it was just he was on offense as the backup quarterback, and that’s important, too. But he was also one of our better defensive players.”
Rivera and Warren were all-district selections on the defense, and Donovan turned in a 66-tackle season as an honorable mention selection.
In the secondary, Jayden Blackmon made plays with three interceptions, including a pick-six in the winner-take-all game against Clear Lake.
“It’s fun to watch. It’s fun to see the kids grow, get better and now you just have to keep it up, right?” Calvert said.
THE PERFECT FIT
Before coming to Brazoswood, Cary enjoyed his time at Hondo; he felt it did not fit him. He wanted to be at a place where there was an opportunity to grow, bring change and take on a program that needed a culture change.
Cary had a friend who lived in the area, so he got a good feel for the district and the area, and the coach felt the Brazosport area was a place that fit him.
“The more I got to know about it, the more I felt it fit my wife and me, and I felt like it would be a perfect fit, and it has been great,” Cary said. “It started out as, ‘This might be a place I might like.’ Then it turned into, ‘I really want this job,’ then to ‘I think we can do something here.’
The biggest challenge entering his first year was getting his players to believe they could accomplish something that seemed so out of reach a few years ago.
“Since I have been here, I have heard a lot of people say, ‘We don’t have the athletes to compete, we don’t have this, and we don’t have that.’ And I’m just like, ‘OK. So what?’” Cary said. “I’m not going to sit and listen to that, and I’m not going to believe in what we don’t have. We are going to focus on what we have and our strengths, and we are going to build on those.”
During the hiring process, Cary sought coaches with positive energy that kids could feed off.
“Not to be cliche, but you need kid magnets. You want to hire guys that kids love to be around,” Cary said. “We’ve got a lot of young coaches on our staff that have five years or less experience, but those guys have energy.
“They come to work every day, they’re hungry, eager to learn and they have that life about them. I want to find guys who want to be at Brazoswood and love this place because it is a challenge to coach in our district, and you have to outwork people. You have to find guys with great initiative, great work ethic and who aren’t afraid to burn the midnight oil sometimes.”
His popular tagline, “burn the boats,” was on T-shirts, and it was the team’s mantra all season. By season’s end, those aforementioned boats were burned to a crisp. Now it’s about building on that success for Cary and his staff, and he’s at the perfect place to do it and a place that has become a perfect fit.
“I tell kids all of the time that the only way we’re going to be successful at Brazoswood is to outwork people,” Cary said. “Last year was great, and we are going to build on it, But we are not going to talk about it a lot. We will have a totally new team next year, we’ll have some carryover, but we are going to have a lot of new spots to fill.
“So build on that, use what we did as a springboard but also know that we have a target on our backs, and everyone knows that Brazoswood is capable of being a playoff team. It’s about the next step now. What is that next step?”