New name, new coach, new attitude: Huskies ready to howl into 2023
Houston Christian has undergone some significant changes over the last year. For starters, the school formerly known as Houston Baptist changed its name in an effort to “welcome all Christians to benefit from our excellent academic programs.”
Another significant change came at the helm of the Huskies football program. HCU is embarking on its first coaching change since the program began in 2013. The Huskies have turned the program over to Braxton Harris, a dynamic young coach with a history of turning around programs.
Harris led Howard Payne to its best record in 13 years before accepting an assistant position at Campbell, where he was the Camels’ recruiting coordinator.
Upon arrival, Harris first noticed a program built the right way by former head coach Vic Shealy.
“Coach Shealy did a phenomenal job starting this program from scratch,” Harris said. “There are a lot of things done exactly right here. We’re fully funded with our scholarships, and we have a great support staff that knows how to do things the right way. Coach Shealy did a great job of making this program about high-character individuals and doing things the right way. He laid the foundation, and we’re trying to build off what he established and take it to the next level.”
The Huskies produced two current NFL players under Shealy in linebacker Caleb Johnson (Jacksonville) and quarterback Bailey Zappe (New England). Harris believes one key to the success of his program will be connecting the alums with the current program.
“Something we’re pushing is getting the alumni back on campus,” Harris said. “We need to keep guys like Caleb and Bailey and everyone who’s played in this program connected, so they can see the vision we’ve given the recruits.”
While sharing the program’s vision with alums is important, recruiting is the key to success in the win column. Harris knew his first order of business was to recruit his current players in the age of the transfer portal.
“The first thing I did when I arrived was meet with every player that had expressed interest in going elsewhere in the portal,” Harris said. “I wanted to connect them with the vision. Recruiting is the lifeblood of your program, but you have to recruit the guys in your building first.”
Once his sales pitch to those on the current roster was finished, the coaching staff hit the recruiting trail hard to fill any remaining holes. Known as one of the top recruiters in FCS, Harris and his staff signed what many industry experts believe is the top 2023 class in the Southland Conference and a Top-10 class in FCS.
“I believe the kids that want to be champions have the desire to be coached and held accountable,” he said. “They want to be somewhere they can learn about themselves while being pushed and not coddled. They want to be held to a higher expectation.
“We have a lot to offer people here. We’re in the fourth largest city with all the resources this university has to offer. You get to learn about yourself and be a part of a program that cares about developing you as a person.”
The Huskies have only won two games since Zappe departed the program following the 2020 season, which was shortened by the pandemic. What will success look like for HCU this season?
“A measure of success for us is going to be how we come back and practice after a victory. Do we come back with the same focus and reset for the next game,” Harris said. “It’s important to see how we come back from a loss. We want to be consistent every week and build a program that lasts for years to come.”
The focus on being consistent isn’t an excuse for another rough season. Harris is clear that the 2023 campaign will not be a rebuilding year.
“This is not a developmental year,” he said. “We expect to win football games, and we want to be competitive in the Southland. We want the teams we play to know they better get ready for a dogfight because we’re gonna fight for every inch.”
Houston Christian can be an easy punching bag for rival fans due to its lackluster facilities, but you won’t hear any excuses from Braxton Harris. He expects to win this season, but that won’t be easy for the Huskies. Fifth-year center Christian Hood will anchor the offensive line, while Rodney Dansby and Caleb Flagg will lead the defense. However, the biggest question is at quarterback.
The Huskies signed former Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Colby Suits, who transferred in from Southland rival Southeastern Louisiana. Suits will compete against incumbent starter Justin Fomby. Harris said Suits had the advantage during the spring due to his quick release. Whoever wins the battle must reduce the number of interceptions (17 in 2022) for the Huskies to achieve their goals.
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