FOOTBALL 2020: New coach Sniffin brings successful blueprint to Belton as Tigers aim to bounce back
NEW GUY OF THE TIGERS: Brett Sniffin was hired as Belton's head football coach in January after he guided Fort Bend Ridge Point to a 75-22 record and eight playoff berths in the Panthers' first eight varsity seasons. Coming to town along with the 50-year-old Sniffin was his son Joe Sniffin, a linebacker who earned honorable mention all-state honors last year as a junior at Ridge Point. Belton begins its season against Georgetown at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Tiger Field before the Tigers play three straight road games. Belton advanced to the playoff five consecutive seasons before struggling to a 3-7 record in 2019. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
BELTON – One thing that certainly can be said about Belton Tigers first-year head coach Brett Sniffin is that the man has a long memory.
In 2014, his talent-laden Fort Bend Ridge Point team was 12-0 and ranked second in the state in Class 5A Division I when No. 4 Temple got a 42-yard field goal by Cole Martin as time expired to defeat the Panthers 38-35 in a classic Region III semifinal clash in Cypress.
Wildcats fans have great memories of that Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving, especially because Temple went on to reach its first state championship game since 1992.
As for Sniffin . . . not so much.
“That still hurts,” he said. “It still hurts.”
“I don't eat in Temple or anything, because you know I still have a bitter taste in my mouth,” Sniffin said. “I'm joking, by the way.”
Six years later, Sniffin will get his opportunity to exact some revenge against Temple when his Belton squad travels Nov. 13 to Wildcat Stadium, where the Tigers will try to break their seven-game losing streak against the rival Wildcats.
Painful memories aside, Sniffin currently is immersed in trying to build Belton into the best team it can be after the Tigers went 3-7 last season, snapping their run of five consecutive playoff appearances with head coaches Bob Shipley and then Sam Skidmore, who's now Belton ISD's athletic director.
Sniffin's blueprint for success definitely worked at Ridge Point, where he started the football program from scratch when the Missouri City school opened in 2010. In eight varsity seasons, his Panthers went 75-22 with eight playoff berths and four years of 10-plus wins, highlighted by 2014's 12-1 team and 2015's 11-4 trek to the state semifinals.
“The most rewarding part was that it was you there from the beginning, and I had zero coaches left on my staff from that first staff. Five of those guys became head coaches, so that's why there was zero,” Sniffin said of his decade as Ridge Point's head coach after he was an assistant coach at Rosenberg Lamar Consolidated and Fort Bend Clements in Sugar Land. “To build it up from that to what it became or what it is now was fantastic.”
The 50-year-old Sniffin was born and raised in Waterloo, Iowa, is the son of a former high school coach and coached on the staff of an Iowa team that won a state championship before he moved to Texas. When Sniffin and his family decided they wanted a new setting and a fresh challenge after 10 years at Ridge Point, he was drawn to the opportunity in Belton.
“One thing is that our family wanted a smaller-school atmosphere. There's two schools in this school district, but that's a lot less than 11 (in Fort Bend ISD). We wanted a school district that supports athletics wholeheartedly, and by gosh, they do here,” Sniffin said. “And we wanted to live in a community that fills the stands up every night regardless of how you're doing, just as long as your kids play hard and you put a good product on the field.
“(At Ridge Point) we played in two stadiums and the one that was 5 minutes away we'd fill up, but then if they had to drive 20 minutes away it would be half as full. That's just the way it is. I'm not knocking those people or anything like that, but just to have that (Belton) support all the way around (is appealing). With that comes a little pressure, too. I understand that, but we're not afraid of that. That's what we wanted.”
Ever since Sniffin was hired in mid-January – which is also when Belton offensive coordinator Brian Cope was hired to start the football program at the new Lake Belton High School – he has been highly impressed by the character of the players he's now guiding.
“The best thing about these kids is they're hard-working kids and they come from working-class families. I would say 50 to 75 percent of my kids have jobs outside of school and practice,” Sniffin said. “I love that mentality. That's how I grew up. I relate to them well and I just appreciate everything that they do to do all that and then come here and work hard for us.”
Sniffin's debut game comes at 7:30 p.m. Friday when Belton hosts Georgetown at Tiger Field. The Tigers then have three straight road games – Round Rock, Midland Lee and the District 12-6A opener at Killeen on Oct. 15 – before their first home district game Oct. 23 against Copperas Cove.
Although inclement weather last Thursday shortened Belton's lone scrimmage at Hutto, Sniffin said it was productive in that he saw what the Tigers do well and what needs improvement.
“I saw enough on defense, for sure. We caused four turnovers, we flew around, we made big hits and for the most part they were where they were supposed to be,” said Sniffin, whose defensive coordinator is Christopher Harbin. “We did allow two long passes, but those are things we can correct. And we allowed them not because of effort or anything like that. It was just alignment and actually a kid trying too hard on one of them.
“Offensively, I'd like to see a little more consistency. But one thing we didn't do is we didn't have 5-yard penalties, and if you can take away those, that's good.”
Belton expects to get a stern opening test from Georgetown, which went 8-4 last season and is picked to finish second to No. 8-ranked Cedar Park in District 11-5A Division I by Texas Football magazine.
“Georgetown is well-coached and there's no weaknesses as far as what you can exploit,” Sniffin said. “Defensively they've got 11 kids running to the football, and offensively it all goes through the big, strapping kid playing quarterback (junior Darson Herman). He's a big ol' joker. If we can slow him down and punch through that defense, we've got a good shot.”
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Herman accounted for 2,333 yards total offense and 19 touchdowns as a sophomore, Eagles senior offensive lineman Connor Heffernan is a Baylor commitment and defensive back Saul DeLaRosa made eight interceptions last season.
“One of the things we wanted to see was a full stadium, and we're not going to see that,” Sniffin said, referring to attendance restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. “But if we could see it at 50 percent, that would be fantastic. Belton and Georgetown have a long history and rivalry through the years. It disappeared for a few years, but I like that we're getting that back. I like to play in those types of games. Those are the fun games. Just to see that is going to be fantastic.”
Sniffin said his philosophy on offense is to best utilize the players he has each season, rather than adhere to a single rigid style. Therefore, a Belton offense coordinated by Barry Campbell seeks to not only cater to its players' strengths but also be versatile enough to attack the deficiencies of each opponent.
“Offensively we're very multiple,” Sniffin said. “Some years (at Ridge Point) we'd have a tight end and a fullback who played pretty well, so we'd put them out there. Other years we couldn't find those types of kids, so we'd spread it out a little more.”
Athletic senior Ruben Jimenez gives the Tigers an athletic, experienced dual-threat quarterback. The 6-foot, 190-pound Jimenez accounted for 2,026 total yards and 20 touchdowns in 2019 and was a second-team all-district selection despite missing some time.
“I like what he can bring to us,” Sniffin said. “He's still making some mistakes as far as decisions go, but we've also held him back some and haven't let him run yet. That'll all change on Friday, so we'll get the 'dual' back in the 'dual-threat' for sure.”
Jimenez has a skilled group of good-sized receivers to throw to, including senior Kanyn Utley (6-3, 205), juniors Wriley Madden (6-3, 173) and Seth Morgan (6-2, 174) and junior tight end Bryan “Itty” Henry, who at 6-4 and 235 pounds “probably is the fastest kid on our team,” according to Sniffin.
“Kanyn Utley has stepped up big-time for us, and Itty Henry, he's a Division I kid,” Sniffin said. “At Ridge Point we had a tight end go to Michigan, and Henry's better than him – way more athletic. You watch the NFL and the type of tight ends they have . . . I'm not throwing NFL (potential) at him, but he fits what they're looking for in a tight end now.”
Belton's rash of injuries last season forced sophomores such as Henry, Madden and Morgan into varsity action, which could pay dividends this year.
“I appreciate those guys for doing that. It does give us some guys who have a lot more Friday night experience than maybe they would have,” Sniffin said. “We don't wish injuries on anyone, that's for sure, but those kids getting experience does help out.”
A Tigers running game that includes senior Mike Davis should benefit from two massive players on the left side of the line with 6-4, 295-pound senior guard Thomas Bowman – a two-time first-team all-district pick – and 6-5, 287-pound junior tackle Ryan Hunt.
“Bowman is a stud. If we need a yard, I know who I want to run behind,” said Sniffin, who has junior Jackson Engelke at center and an ongoing competition at right guard and right tackle.
Sniffin also believes in flexibility and adaptability both year to year and game to game on defense, a unit that must improve for Belton to grab one of 12-6A's four playoff berths after last season's Tigers allowed 37.9 points per game.
“Defensively we're pretty much a 3-4 team, but we'll get down in some four-man fronts,” Sniffin said. “We really play to the strengths of our kids.”
One of the projected leaders of Belton's defense is new to the Tigers but knows their head coach well: senior linebacker Joe Sniffin, Brett Sniffin's son. The 6-1, 207-pound Sniffin was an honorable mention all-state selection last season after making 80 tackles (10 for losses) for Ridge Point's 8-3 playoff team.
Brett Sniffin said he and his family sought Joe Sniffin's opinion as their family considered the potential move to Belton leading into Joe's senior season.
“We asked Joe what he thought. We sat down and talked about the positives and the negatives,” Brett Sniffin said. “One of the positives with full stadiums all the time was taken away (because of COVID-19), but another positive was, 'We're probably not going to take you out of any games early because we're blowing people out. We fully feel like every game's going to be close, so you'll get to play more.'”
Belton welcomes back 6-foot, 230-pound senior end Malik Jackson (70 tackles, 5½ sacks) after his second-team all-district season. Senior linebacker Charles Williams III (6-3, 222) is another veteran, and Brett Sniffin also is excited about junior safeties Trent West (6-3, 169) and Aaron Bain (6-1, 171) and athletic sophomore linebacker Jack Tabat (6-0, 191).
“I think he's going to be a big-timer,” Brett Sniffin said about West.
The coach said he watched video of Belton's games from last season primarily to assess the effort level of the returning players. He believes maximum effort is vital this season for his Tigers to have success and get back into the playoffs.
“I didn't really care about the X's and O's part. I just wanted to see them play and the effort,” Brett Sniffin said. “We're all about effort. You don't coach that. Those kids have to have that.”