It’s not been the easiest of offseasons for Harlan senior tackle Bryce Browning, who has discovered at a young age that football can serve as something of an escape when life turns difficult.
Browning is happy to be back on the football field as the Green Dragons open defense of their District 7 title on Friday at home against South Floyd. He was a key player for the Dragons last fall when they finished 9-3 and won their first district title since 1999. After a second-round playoff loss to Hazard, Browning immediately went to work in the weightroom to prepare for his senior campaign.
Harlan coach J.B. Donahue credits Browning and fellow senior Tanner Parks with leading the team’s offseason program.
“He’s a terrific young man, a leader of our team,” Donahue said. “He and Tanner took a leadership role in the offseason. He’s very dedicated and leads by example. He’s a quality young man.”
Browning’s offseason work was interrupted with devastating news. His grandfather, well-known retired Harlan County insurance salesman Jim Robinson, suffered a stroke on Jan. 27 and is still in Lexington recovering.
“He’s had a lot of personal trials with his grandfather’s sickness, but that being said he still look a leadership role. He missed one day of our offseason program, and that was when his grandfather went to the hospital,” Donahue said. “That says a lot about his character.”
While his grandfather was fighting back from his medical issues, Browning had a setback of his own in June when he had to undergo an appendectomy.
“I feel pretty good now,” Browning said. “Football and my friends have helped me a lot.”
Tammy Robinson, a retired teacher who is Bryce’s mom and Jim’s daughter, said her son showed maturity beyond his years when tragedy struck.
“After my Daddy’s stroke, I was the only advocate he had because it affected his speech and entire right side. Bryce was alone at home for six weeks,” she said. “He just missed but one day of football conditioning, made the honor roll and would still find time to come up to see his Pop, Camille (his sister) and me on the weekend. God blessed me with exceptional children.”
Jim Robinson has never missed one of his grandson’s games with the Dragons. His daughter hopes he can make it back to a game before their favorite player’s high school career ends.
Donahue says very few Dragons have improved as much as Browning during their high school career, due in large part to his offseason work. Browning has grown quite a bit during his four years, with 225 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame, an increase of almost 50 pounds since his high school career started.
“For four years, I’ve worked hard in the weightroom. It’s helped me tremendously. I knew it would take a lot of hard work,” said Browning, who was recently ranked among the district’s top players by the Cats Pause.
He and Thomas Morgan, also a senior, anchor both the Harlan offensive and defensive lines. The Dragons ran for almost 4,000 yards last year and will need another big season from their line and ground attack to repeat as champions.
“We have a lot of pressure on us to perform, but we’ll just go out and play,” Browning said. “I think our line will be a strength of the team.”
Browning also excels in the classroom, posting a 3.55 grade point average going into this senior year. He may continue his football career at a small college in the region or choose instead to become a full-time student at Eastern Kentucky University.
But before he has to make that decision, Browning and his senior teammates want to make a little history.
I’m very excited about my senior year. I think we could be the first back-to-back district champions,” he said.
He’ll also be thinking about one of his biggest fans.
“This year,” he says, “is going to be for Pop.”
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134