COPPERAS COVE — Before every game, Copperas Cove defensive back Tommy Connell sends a text to his parents.
“I love you,” he writes as the rest of his family sends him messages of good luck.
“That brings me confidence and shows me that I can do this,” Connell said. “That’s my motivation for playing -- for my family.”
One family member in particular motivates him on and off the field: His older brother Floyd.
“I look up to him all the time,” Connell said of his brother, who also played for Copperas Cove and is in his first season at the University of Louisiana-Monroe. “When I see him do something, I always try to set my bar higher and outdo him.
“My motivation is to get better than him every day.”
In his first varsity season with the Bulldawgs, Connell was known by many of his friends and teammates as “Floyd’s brother” or the “second Connell,” which is why he chose to wear No. 11 for his jersey.
“I’ve always been in his shadow,” Connell explained, “So, when I got on varsity, it was his senior year and my junior year, and he was No. 1.
“So, I picked 11 because of the second one, and it stuck to me, and I like to think I made it my own.”
But many Copperas Cove fans don’t know the Connell brothers almost didn’t play football.
“I used to do AMA motocross,” Connell said. “I got into football in sixth grade after AMA because, to be honest, I loved AMA, but there wasn’t a future. I could get into college with or anything.”
The first football game he ever watched was a Bulldawgs’ game.
“We didn’t buy tickets at first,” Connell recalled, “so I remember standing outside the fence and saw Robert Griffin III and all the fans cheering.
“So, then my brother Floyd and I really liked it, and we wanted to do it. So, the next year, when we heard about little league, we signed up, and the rest is history.”
Now in his senior year, Connell is experiencing what it’s like to be the guy on the field that everyone is watching.
One afternoon while out at Walmart with some friends, a woman approached the group and asked if he was No. 11 from the Copperas Cove football team.
“I said, ‘Yes ma’am,’” Connell said, “and she said, ‘You’re my favorite player.’
“It was kind of funny and humbling to realize that I’m getting recognized and helping people out.”
Outside of football, Connell has a hobby many probably wouldn’t expect.
“I like to hand paint shoes,” he said, “and I design some of my cleats.”
Friday night against Killeen, Connell donned a pair of cleats he customized.
“I’ve also have been trying to pick up hand making shoes,” he added. “I just haven’t got the lining part down.
“But I can make the sole, and I can make the shoe, but just not the lining like the sock or anything yet.”
And while he’s had success off the field with his artistic hobby, Connell is focused on finishing his final varsity season on his terms.
“I’m not trying to get ahead of ourselves,” Connell said of his team, “but we’re trying to win district, get in the playoffs and, after that, try to go deep and win state.”
He entered the season determined to take down Belton, but there is one team left in district he has his eyes set on getting redemption against.
“I want us to win against Waco Midway,” he said, “because last year, we lost to them 45-42, and it’s been haunting me ever since.
“Because we came back from behind, and we had the lead, and then we let it slip through our fingers. So, that’s that game I really want to show out and win at.”
The motivation behind that goal might also come from the fact that his dad likes to remind him of that game.
With plans to leave it all on the field this season, Connell hopes to leave his mark on the Bulldawgs’ program as the leading receiver in district.
But if anything, he just wants to be remembered as a great teammate.
“Helping my teammates out, like in class or on the field helping them learn plays, helping them up,” he said. “And then the other goals I probably have is having a winning record and getting a college scholarship.”