WILLIS — Zach Bravo isn’t big when it comes to size. But on Friday night, he let Caney Creek know what he was capable of in the opening moments of the game.
The Willis starting middle linebacker was inserted on special teams and was on kickoff coverage duty. He ran down the field and drilled the Panthers’ returner. It set the tone for a big game as the 5-foot-6 senior totaled a game-high 12 tackles, including two for a loss, in a 37-20 win for the Wildkats.
Bravo was selected by the fans as The Courier’s Player of the Week for his effort as he earned 34 percent of the vote. The Woodlands quarterback Ben Mills was second with 21 percent, John Cooper athlete Thomas Elkhoury brought in 13 percent of the vote while Porter defensive back Austin Perkins drew 12 percent of the vote
“The first kickoff, I got probably my hardest hit of the year,” Bravo said Monday afternoon as the Wildkats prepared for this Friday’s game against College Station. “I got a ‘Big Hit’ award for this game. I just laid him out.”
Willis coach Michael Wall was most proud of Bravo’s leadership in wanting to help the team in any way possible.
“He jumped in on kick off and runs down there,” Wall said. “That’s a play that you have to go defense right after. That’s an unselfish dude that’s willing to hit someone and do their job. He went out there and did a great job there too.”
The win for Willis (2-5, 1-3) was its first in District 8-5A (Div. I) and snapped a four-game losing streak.
Bravo has lived all his life in Willis and has played football for 14 years. This season is his second on varsity.
Last year didn’t quite go how he wanted. Bravo explained that he started the first game the season as a junior but was relegated to a backup role. He worked even harder in preparation for his senior year.
“The offseason, that’s what motivated was a starting spot on varsity,” Bravo said.
Wall noticed Bravo’s urgency to learn how to be a better linebacker in order to help the team.
“He’s bought in since when we’ve been here,” Wall said. “He’s a kid that’s been in 7-on-7 and learning how pass cover and all that stuff. He’s more of a run-stopper by nature, but he’s doing a good job against the pass against over-sized tight ends and things like that.”
Bravo has enjoyed his role this year and being the leader that sets the defense.
“To be great linebacker, it takes a great defensive line,” he said. “In my opinion, we have the best defensive line out there.”
Stopping the run is an important key to stopping Caney Creek’s offense. It was a good matchup for the middle linebacker.
“I think I’m personally better at defending the run,” Bravo said. “Even though I intercepted a pass against Lake Creek. But I’m better at tackling than catching.”
Bravo’s tackling was crucial for the Wildkats.
“They were a running team and ran the ball 90 percent of the time,” Wall said of Caney Creek. “They had a good-looking running back and he really ran hard. (Zach) was always around the ball for us. I always talk to our defensive guys the next day and ask who played well and Bravo as one of the guys they talked about.”
Although he doesn’t have the prototype size of most linebackers, Bravo has worked hard and is using everything he can to succeed. He shows no fear.
“Zach is not very tall,” Wall said. “But Zach has the heart of a lion. He plays much bigger than what he is. He’s extremely tough. Guys like him are wired a little bit differently. There’s a guy bigger than you with the ball and he’s not afraid to stick his nose there and go toe-to-toe with the biggest guys that we face. Awesome kid, heart of a champion and a great leader for us.”