Owen Branon checks off all the boxes in terms of being the ideal high school athlete. Hard worker. Earns excellent grades. Leader in words and example. Hollister football coach Bryan Smith was effusive in his praise for Branon, a senior inside linebacker who flies to the ball as if his life depended on it.
“Owen has taken pride in being a captain for us,” Smith said in a message to the Free Lance. “I have watched him work at becoming a true team leader daily. Through his efforts he has earned the respect of all his teammates and coaching staff. He identifies offensive formations quickly, supports the alignment of other defensive players, and prepares his body and mind for the grueling position he plays. Owen excels academically and his commitment to his teammates, his family, and his schooling will give him an advantage when he leaves high school to go to college, go to work and when he becomes a husband and father.”
The Haybalers (3-3 overall, 2-1 league), who are coming off a 39-0 win over Gilroy in the Prune Bowl, play on Friday against Alvarez. Branon feels the team is headed in the right direction after suffering a couple of blowout losses to start the season.
“We had a couple of slip-ups on defense with misalignments, but that stuff that can be tweaked and improved and we’ve definitely worked on those things in practice,” he said.
Branon, who is one of the team captains along with Slade Wilson, Stevan Navarro, Alberto Rodriguez and Ivan Benitez, takes the vast experience of knowledge from his coaches along with watching hours of video and transfers that to the field, where he makes excellent pre-snap reads to get himself and his teammates in the right position on the field.
“Part of being a captain is making sure everyone is doing their job,” he said. “A team leader genuinely takes a lot of self-evaluation, and I’ve known ever since playing Pop Warner (for the Hollister Vikings) that I dreamed of being on the varsity football team and how great it would be to be a captain.”
Several of Branon’s teammates played with him on the Vikings, including Rodriguez, Isaias Rivera and Navarro. Growing up in Hollister, many kids dream of putting on the Hollister football helmet. It was no different with Branon, who vividly remembers when the Vikings switched their helmet sticker from a horn to a purple H in his final year of playing Pop Warner.
“I kind of took that as we were going to continue to wear that H going into high school,” Branon said.
Branon said communication plays a vital role in a team’s success or downfall. Without communication, there is little chance of winning. With it, a team plays in sync and in rhythm.
“Whether it’s before the snap or in the huddle, constant communication is what we need to be running like a team,” he said.
Branon, who carries “between a 3.8 and 4.0” GPA, credited his dad, Chris, and his family for being a great support system that has allowed him to thrive as a student-athlete. Branon also gained inspiration from Chris, who in the off-season was named the new San Benito High lacrosse coach.
“I remember wanting to be more like dad,” Branon said.
Branon has worked diligently to improve his speed in the last few years, and it shows on the field. Branon explodes to the ball and has great reaction time. In the team’s game against Aptos earlier this season, Branon felt like he asserted himself well, especially against the inside run game that Aptos is known for.
“Alberto put me in good position to make a lot of tackles,” he said. Whether he has a great game or a so-so one, Branon focuses on improvement. He also started the season playing some tight end; however, his strongest position has