HEAD COACH: Mike David (3rd season)
LAST YEAR: 6-6, lost to Henry County in second round of 5A playoffs
RETURNING STARTERS: 8 offense, 6 defense
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: QB Nick Harvell, LB/WR Derrion Lewis, RB Braxton Sharp, DE Jacob Rodriquez, OL Harrison Moore, OL Luke Hayes, OL Jayvon Lee, RB Ty Stark, DB Kolby Jones, DB Emmanuel Thurman, DB C.J. Bonner, DE Marwann Culbreath
KEY PLAYERS LOST: OL Austin Welsandt, TE Bryce Chaco, LB Josh Fleming, DL Dima Barker
Quick trivia question: What was the only Tipton County-area team to win a playoff game on the field last year?
After a 2-5 start, the Cardinals won four straight games, including an impressive 48-28 win over Dyer County in the first round of the playoffs.
“Our goal is to go far in the playoffs,” Brighton head coach Mike David said. “Last year we made it to the second round and had an opportunity to go play Henry County. Now we know where we need to get to to get to the next level. We’ve been working toward that. We want to continue to do well in the playoffs and go as far as we can.”
The emergence of senior quarterback Nick Harvell and junior running back Braxton Sharp were the main reasons for the Cardinals’ offensive success last season.
Harvell, in his first year playing quarterback, racked up more than 1,700 yards of offense. When he wasn’t decimating defenses Sharp was. The speedy running back rushed for 958 yards and 11 touchdowns while averaging more than 10 yards per carry.
The good news for those guys is that the offensive line returns largely in tact with three starters returning: senior tackle Harrison Moore, senior guard Luke Hayes and junior guard Jayvon Lee. Junior Matthew Parker moves into a starting role at tackle and sophomore Will Comer will play center.
Sophomore running back Ty Stark, the son of former standout Cardinal running back Tim Stark, figures to play a more prominent role in the offense this year.
Senior Darrien Lewis, who played primarily defense last year, will see some time at wideout this year. Another senior, Quay Smith, emerged over the summer as another go-to guy at wideout. Both are 6-2 with a lot of speed.
Brighton’s defense gave up some pretty large chunks of yardage early last season but improved as the season progressed. With six starters back, that improvement figures to continue.
Senior Jacob Rodriquez is the most experienced Brighton defender. The three-year starter plays defensive end and tackle and excels at both.
“He’s just all over the field,” David said. “His motor doesn’t stop and that’s the kind of guy you need on the defensive line. He’s very fast and tough to block.”
Marwann Culbreath is another defensive lineman who figures to contribute a lot this season.
Lewis is moving from safety to outside linebacker to replace some key starters who graduated and David said that change has had a positive impact on the defense. Sophomores Jakestion Anthony and Josh South will also move into more prominent roles as linebackers.
The secondary is very deep and experienced with the return of seniors Emmanuel Thurman and C.J. Bonner, cornerbacks who can defend the pass and offer run support. Junior Maddux Anderson and Stark will see time in the defensive backfield and senior safety Kolby Jones is a vocal leader at safety.
“The defense has been good the last two years,” Jones said. “We’ve all been working hard everyday to get stronger and faster.”
“This summer, we’ve been competing against each other, getting better and stronger,” Stark said. “We’ve got something to prove.”
As it was for all teams, the 2020 season was a strange one for the Cardinals. Due to Memphis teams not playing because of COVID, Brighton had just one region game. That came in September against Munford and it was a wild one. Sharp and Harvell combined for 389 rushing yards and the Cardinals led 34-23 late in the third quarter before the Munford rallied for a 39-34 win to take the region title.
Unless something unforeseen happens, this year’s Munford-Brighton game will not be for the region title, but it could go a long way toward determining the league champ.
Region 8-5A has different look this season. Ridgeway and Kirby, typically two of the stronger teams in the league, moved out. Dyer County and Memphis Central, who has been tabbed the favorite, moved in.
The path to the playoffs figures to be more challenging, but Brighton’s players are confident the Cardinals will be a postseason factor.
“I think we’re capable of going to state and winning state,” Lewis said. “That should be the mindset and I’m hoping we get to it.”
“I expect great things,” Sharp said. “I feel like we’re way faster and way stronger than last season. This team really gives me the feeling of one that can make a deep playoffs run.”
“Of course, state championship is a goal, but sometimes we tend to go too fast,” Harvell said. “We have to take it one game at a time. We can’t even think about that right now because if you think about it before it happens it probably won’t happen. We just have to beat the team in front of us and go from there.”