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story.lead_photo.caption Heber Springs football player Jacob Bremmon carries the ball during action at Lonoke in 2016. Bremmon, who was a defesnive back and wide receiver for the Panthers, is the 2017 River Valley & Ozark Edition Defensive Player of the Year. - Photo by Mark Buffalo

HEBER SPRINGS — When Jacob Bremmon of Heber Springs was a sophomore, he sustained fractured vertebrae in his back, dislocated a shoulder and bit through his tongue when the Panthers’ bus hit a deer near Rose Bud on the way back from a game at Stuttgart.

Two years later, he led the nation in interceptions.

“That really kind of drove me,” Bremmon, a 6-0, 180-pound senior defensive back/wide receiver said of the accident that cost him five weeks of his sophomore season. “I was one of the ones who was pretty severely injured.

“I don’t remember a whole lot. I had been asleep when it happened, and I remember waking up in pretty severe pain. I thought I’d bit my tongue off.”

Fast forward two years, and Bremmon is the River Valley & Ozark Edition Defensive Player of the Year for 2017.

“The thing about Jacob, he’s not as physically gifted as some of these other guys are,” Panther coach Darren Gowen said. “He’s a good kid and a good athlete. He’s not incredibly fast or incredibly big, but he plays incredibly hard.

“He’s 100 percent all the time, in practice and in games. He’s a smart football player. That’s what helped him be as successful as he was.”

Bremmon’s 13 interceptions put him in a four-way tie with players from North Carolina, Virginia and California to lead the nation. He added 67 tackles, including 7 for loss.

He credited his coaches for the interception success.

“I used what I was taught to make plays,” he said. “That put me in the best position to get the ball.”

He snagged multiple interceptions in three games — three against Helena-West Helena Central and two each against Southside Batesville and Central Arkansas Christian.

Offensively, Bremmon caught 45 passes for 902 yards and 7 touchdowns to lead the Panthers, and he returned 3 kickoffs for touchdowns.

“He lined us up in the secondary and was a big leader on the field,” Gowen said. “He never came off the field his junior or senior year — offense, defense, all special teams. I couldn’t take him off the field.”

Bremmon said his senior season went better than he’d planned.

“I had always been a role-player,” he said. “I never really had a standout season.

I just wanted to do my job. I’m definitely glad I was able to take advantage of the opportunities I was given.”

In 2015, the Panthers won five games.

“It wasn’t a great year, but I feel like it kind of helped us in the long run,” Bremmon said. “I think it brought us together after that, knowing we had to step up for one another.”

After an 0-3 start in 2016, the Panthers won six of their last eight games, tied for the 2-4A Conference championship and lost to Shiloh Christian in the opening round of the Class 4A state playoffs.

In 2017, they started 0-2 but finished 8-4 overall and 6-1 in the 2-4A to mark a three-way tie for the league title with Stuttgart and Southside Batesville. The season included a six-game winning streak.

As the third seed to the playoffs, Heber Springs beat Gravette in the opening round, 49-46, before falling to Gosnell in the second, 35-7.

The Gravette game encapsulated Bremmon’s Panther career. He returned 3 kickoffs for touchdowns (85, 75 and 80 yards), caught a 69-yard touchdown pass, returned a punt 55 yards to set up a go-ahead score and intercepted a pass in the end zone to stop Gravette’s final drive.

“When a big play needs to be made, it’s made by Jacob Bremmon,” Gowen said. “He plays well all over the field. We needed everything he was able to do for us. That’s the kind of kid he is.”

The coach said the 2017 Panthers overachieved.

“We lost quite a few seniors off that (2016) conference championship team,” Gowen said. “We started eight sophomores, including a quarterback and three offensive linemen, and we had a few seniors, including Jacob, who stepped up and played really well.

“He works hard in school, makes good grades, is a three-sport athlete. He’s one of those kids who does everything. Besides the fact that he’s a really good football player, he’s just a really good kid.”

Bremmon, an honor graduate sporting a 3.67 grade-point average, also plays basketball and baseball for the Panthers. He’ll play football and maybe baseball for Hendrix College in Conway next year and said Warrior coach Buck Buchanan had talked to him about playing safety and maybe some special teams.

Bremmon said he isn’t sure of his major, but he wants to be a coach.

“The influence the coaches have had on me — I want to do the same thing for others,” he said. “All the coaches have had a part in it, just them being very understanding, getting to know you, caring about personal stuff and always wanting what’s best for you.”

Gowen is already thinking about life for the Panthers after Bremmon.

“We may have to have several to replace him,” the coach said. “He’s just a great leader on and off the field. Somebody will step up and do a good job. It may take a few.

“We have several who play both ways, but I don’t know that we’ve had many excel as well as Jacob did on both sides of the ball.”

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