Editor's note: This is the second in a three-part series of excerpts from the Art Briles' biography Looking Up: My Journey From Tragedy to Triumph.
Briles, currently the head coach at Baylor University in Waco, led Stephenville to four state championships in the 1990s, and returns to town Monday along with author Nick Eatman to sign copies of the book.
Throughout the 1994 season, Jason Bragg had his moments of pure dominance. Against Brownwood, he only carried the ball 10 times, but that was enough for him to rush for 232 yards, including touchdowns of 60 and 67 yards that came from the “Hammer Time” formation. He also caught three passes for 57 more, totaling 289 yards from scrimmage.
One of the more memorable moments of his prep career occurred in a laugher game at Cleburne, where it had rained most of the night, muddying the field to a point where injuries were always a concern. While he ran the ball, caught the ball, played safety, returned kicks, and sometimes lined up at quarterback, Bragg was also the punter. Of course, with him doing all of those other things, Stephenville didn’t need to kick the ball away too often, anyway.
But late in the game, with the Yellow Jackets leading Cleburne 45–0, a punt was necessary. By this time, Bragg had long been pulled, so Coach Briles told him: “Just don’t get tackled and get yourself hurt. If they get close to blocking it, don’t have your leg extended out there. So just run around with the ball.”
It seems Bragg just heard the “don’t get tackled” part. He took the snap and was off, weaving through a few defenders. Before you knew it, he had gone on a 47-yard touchdown run. Unfortunately, to the folks on the Cleburne side, the play looked like the defending state champions were trying to rub it in their face with a fake punt, despite owning a commanding lead.
Briles knew how the situation appeared from the other side of the field. In this case, though, perception wasn’t reality. He knew Bragg wasn’t in the wrong, but as a coach, sometimes you have to take care of perception and hide the reality.
Coach grabbed Bragg by the jersey, got right in his face, and starting yelling, putting on quite a show. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say to you right now!” Coach shouted. “That made me look like the biggest ass in high school football. So you just act like I’m yelling at you. But…that was one hell of a run.”
The boos from the opposite bleachers were deafening. And since the game was well out of hand, the coaches normally in the press box had already departed for the sidelines. That left play-by-play announcer Boots Elliott as the only Stephenville-attired person on that side of the field. Needless to say, he was hearing it from fans shouting up toward him and anyone else who happened to be in the press box.
Getting called “low-class” and “cheap” for the rest of the game and into the postgame show, Elliott let most of it go as he continued to call the game. But as the regular cohost of “Coffee With Coach” with Art during his Friday morning radio show, Elliott finally fired back as he was packing up his equipment.
“I just call the games on the radio,” he said. “Go yell at the other balding guy over there.”
They certainly did. Art got plenty of hate mail from the Cleburne faithful over that play, but he knew the truth. He knew his intentions. And, he learned a valuable lesson: always have a backup punter.
The book signing is from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday at Barefoot Athletics on Washington Street across from the Tarleton State University administration building. Briles will sign only the biography, and organizers ask fans to avoid bringing other memorabilia. Books are available for purchase at Barefoot Athletics, but do not have to be purchased on sight to obtain a signature.
Watch for another excerpt from the Briles' biography, published by Triumph Books, in the Sunday edition of the Empire-Tribune.