The name most people equate with Kyler Cornwell is his older brother Jake, a 2018 Brentsville graduate and former all-state linebacker.
But Cornwell’s roots at the Nokesville school run deeper and wider.
In 1988, Cornwell’s father Matt was an all-state tight end his senior season who went on to become only the second Brentsville football player to ever sign with a Division I college (Richmond) for football.
Cornwell’s uncle Brandon was a second-team all-state punter for the Tigers before pitching at James Madison University and being drafted by the Texas Rangers.
And another uncle, Ben, was an all-district defensive back who played baseball at Concord.
Matt’s three sons kept the Cornwell-Brentsville pipeline going, starting with Billy followed by Jake and now Kyler.
“Everyone knows Cornwells here,” Kyler said. “We are football players and wrestlers.”
Cornwell stopped wrestling after middle school to concentrate on football. He played junior varsity his freshman year before moving to varsity last season.
This season, he’s seen his role expand over the last two games in helping the Tigers rebound from a 0-2 start with two straight victories.
Protected from too heavy of a workload, Cornwell began the season starting at inside linebacker (where he is the team’s second-leading tackler with 38) and carrying the ball seven times for 10 yards in the Tigers’ first two games.
But injuries revamped his responsibilities on offense. After starting running back Brady Hoad was hurt, Cornwell stepped in as Brentsville’s primary ball carrier for its third game against Kettle Run. He responded by rushing for 61 yards and one touchdown as the Tigers beat the Cougars for the first time since 2010.
Cornwell, the Quick Lane Tire and Auto at Battlefield Ford High School Football Player of the Week, then upped his game last Friday when he rushed for a team-high 97 yards and three touchdowns, while totaling 10 tackles as the Tigers handed previously unbeaten Spotsylvania its first loss of the season.
Playing more on offense exhausted Cornwell at times, but he’s willing to step in and help wherever he can.
“He’s a stud,” head coach Joe Mullinax said. “He’s a physical kid and coachable. He’s fun to coach.”
Mullinax said Cornwell’s speed and athleticism help him on both sides of the ball. Competing in track last season only made Cornwell faster.
“I would say he is our most explosive player,” Mullinax said. “There are others with comparable speed, but his ability to accelerate and create and close space quickly is where he is most impressive.”
The 5-foot-11 Cornwell said his dad describes his running style this way.
“He calls me John Riggins,” Cornwell said in reference to the former NFL star running back. “I run straight and it’s all downhill.”
As Brentsville’s offensive line coach, Matt doesn’t spend any time coaching his son. But the two talk after games and sometimes on the sidelines.
Cornwell said his dad never pressured him to play football. The only pressure Cornwell felt was self-imposed in living up to their father’s success.
“Me and my brothers all felt it,” Cornwell said. “We have to be good players.”
Matt was a holdover from the previous coaching staff. But retaining him was important to Brentsville.
“I was told to make it a priority to bring him back,” Mullinax said. “He’s extremely experienced and one of the most successful players to come out of here. It’s good to have people who care.”
Cornwell is one of three Brentsville players whose fathers serve as assistant coaches. The other two are T.J. Stanley and Guy Hayes.
In a nod to that connection, Mullinax noted how all three helped contribute to a second-half touchdown against Spotsylvania that put the Tigers up 27-22.
On a third and 26, Hayes completed a pass to Stanley for a first down. On the next play, Cornwell ran 55 yards for a touchdown.
“It’s part of the history of Brentsville,” Mullinax said.