The Laurence Manning football team is back in the SCISA 4A state championship on Friday as they look to cap off another impressive season.
So many athletes played important roles in another appearance in the title game, but in the early stages of the Swampcats' win over Porter-Gaud on Friday, Jackson Brunson stole the show.
The senior did a little bit of everything on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he scored LMA's first three touchdowns as they took a commanding lead out of the gate. He helped set up one of those scores by forcing a fumble and recovering the loose ball. He would add one more fumble recovery, 13 tackles and two more tackles for a loss in the resounding Swampcat victory. His performance was also enough to earn recognition as the Hines Furniture Athlete of the Week.
"It feels really good," Brunson said of the support.
Laurence Manning head coach Will Furse is glad to have a weapon like Brunson who can make plays in every aspect of the game.
"Jackson is a really good player. He's a football player," Furse said. "When he gets the ball on offense, good things tend to happen, and it was no different on Friday night. Defensively, he's been one of our better open-field tacklers all year. He always seems to be around the football from the safety position; he makes tackles around the line of scrimmage a lot."
Laurence Manning was extremely focused coming into Friday's matchup, and Brunson was no different. Offensively, he gave credit to quarterback Tyler June for opening the door for success, but his performance on both sides of the ball speaks for itself.
"I was really locked in on defense, just running as hard as I could to wherever the ball was, I was there," Brunson said. "On offense, it was really Tyler executing the plays, calling those audibles to get the ball in my hands. It was nice to do that."
Brunson was charged with playing the pitch man against the option-heavy Porter-Gaud run game. Furse appreciates having a player that both has the ability to keep his head on a swivel and is ready to bring down the hammer for a big hit when the opportunity presents itself.
"He was really good at triggering on that option, attacking the pitch man, playing his responsibility. He was patient, wasn't trying to do too much, and when opportunities presented themselves, he was able to make a big play," Furse said. "He's got a very high football IQ, so some things come easier to him than a lot of people. He trusts himself, and a big part of that is he trusts his teammates to do what they're supposed to, and it frees him up. He doesn't have to worry about playing cornerback; he can focus on doing his job. That's what makes him really good is his trust in his teammates."
Brunson may not be the biggest defender on the field, but he's always up for the challenge of taking down even the biggest backs.
"It never matters about your size, it's all about mindset and playing your keys and doing your job," Brunson said. "Just playing 100% and being there."
Offensively, Brunson has played an important role in having a more diverse offense. He caught two touchdowns and ran for a third. June's efficiency in the passing game has been critical, but a number of receivers, like Brunson, have stepped up as teams look to slow down Josiah Burson.
"He's extremely versatile," Furse said of Brunson. "He was a running back in JV, and we ran a little bit of a different offense then. We've played him mostly at receiver this year and last year, but we've been incorporating stuff with him in the backfield lately, and that's really paid off for us. It's great to have that versatility because we can go from one back to two backs without having to sub somebody in, so it puts defenses in a bind. You never really know what formation we're going to be in, and that's been huge for us this year."
Brunson was quick to give praise to the guys in the trenches that have made life easier for the rest of the offense.
"Our line has been giving our quarterback a lot more time in the pocket, so that's been really successful for our team," Brunson said. "It's allowing us to pass the ball a lot more and show that we're a really good passing team."
Brunson and the Swampcats are now in a familiar spot, facing Hammond for the SCISA 4A state championship. While Brunson is happy to play for the title, he isn't settling for a participation trophy on Friday.
"It's different this year. We're not just excited making the championship this year. We're trying to win it," the senior said. "We're not getting too excited yet."
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