EL DORADO — Hunter Browning hasn’t played on the defensive side of the football since his sophomore year at Washburn Rural.
But the standout running back will be back on defense, for one game anyway, playing safety for the East in Saturday night’s 44th annual Shrine Bowl at Butler County Community College.
“At first it was a little bit of a surprise to me because I thought I was going to be playing running back, but I guess it’s wherever they need me,” Browning said. “I’m feeling pretty comfortable at safety and getting to know everything. I’ve never played it before, but I’m feeling pretty comfortable with it.”
Browning played linebacker for Washburn Rural his sophomore season before developing into a playmaker on offense as a junior and senior.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Browning was an All-City pick at running back as a senior, rushing for just under 800 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns. Browning helped lead the Junior Blues to a 7-4 record, Rural’s most wins since 1996.
Browning, who is headed to Craig Schurig’s Washburn program, expects to be back at running back when the Ichabods open preseason camp early next month, but his defensive stint in the Shrine Bowl could also show off his versatility.
“(Running back) is what they recruited me as, but we’ll see,” Browning said.
Browning, who was also a state qualifier in track as a senior, expects to redshirt this fall, but has been preparing all summer to be ready to play if needed.
“Pretty much every morning, since I live just about 15 minutes away from (Washburn), I’ve been going to the morning workouts and the seven-on-sevens and I feel like it’s really helped me,” he said. “I’ve gained a few pounds and gotten a little bit faster.”
While Browning had opportunities to leave Topeka to continue his career, he said it was an easy choice to pick his hometown school.
“It was really just the facilities and the players and the coach relationship I’ve had,” Browning said. “It just really felt like home to me. It wasn’t really a matter of going out of town or staying in town. It was just whatever felt right to me.”
Browning is one of five Topekans on the East roster, with Hayden’s Tomas Stringer, Seaman’s Dalton Cowan, Shawnee Heights’ Wyatt Hubert and Topeka High’s Corey Thomas also slated to play in Saturday’s 7 p.m. game.
The East has won the last two Shrine Bowl games, including a 48-27 win last year, and city products Tony Barksdale Jr. of Shawnee Heights and Mike McCoy of Topeka High have been named the East’s most valuable player the last two years.