Orange County lost one of its finest Wednesday morning.
Shane Dronett, 38, a Bridge City native and former National Football League standout, was found deceased at his home close to Atlanta, Ga. Wednesday.
Dronett was an All-State player at Bridge City High School and was a 1989 graduate of the school.
An autopsy is being performed to determine the cause of his death. Services are pending at Claybar Funeral Home.
He was married to wife Kris and had two daughters, Berkley and Hayley.
Dronett went on to become a First Team All-American at The University of Texas in 1991 and played for the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons. He played in the Super Bowl for the Falcons after the 1998 season.
“It was truly a shock to hear,” said Bridge City high school principal Richard Briggs, who coached Dronett in his early coaching days on the Bridge City campus. “My first years at Bridge City, I was fortunate enough to coach kids like Shane and Jason Mathews (who also went on to play in the NFL). They made my life easy, that’s for sure. I just remember that big old smile Shane had throughout high school. He’s one of those kids, that right off the bat I thought, ‘this kid will be playing on Sundays.”
The Bridge City school district was rattled with the news.
“From the entire school district, our thoughts and prayers are with his entire family,” said Briggs. “We extend our deepest sympathies to them. He always represented Bridge City so well and he’s what you’d like to call a ‘native son.’”
Vidor head football coach Jeff Mathews watched Dronett grow up around the likes of his brother Jason, who went on to star at Texas A&M; University and in the NFL, mainly with the Tennessee Titans.
“It’s such horrible news,” said Mathews. “I watched that kid grow up and become a man in my own eyes. He was like a little brother to me at times. Shane and Jason grew up together and they hung around our house growing up. I’m sure Jason is devastated. They stayed good friends and kept in touch when they were in the NFL.”
Mathews loved watching Dronett’s competitive spirit.
“Shane was one of the most down to earth kids that you would ever meet,” Mathews said. “He was a very loyal friend to all of his friends. He always had them backed up, you could count on that. He was a fierce competitor that played with tremendous heart.”
One coach that always saw Dronett’s spunk was former Bridge City defensive coach Tony Atchley. It was Atchley who presented Dronett an award when Bridge City retired his old Cardinal jersey.
“I’ve coached some competitors in my life, but none like Shane Dronett,” said Atchley, who retired close to the Austin area. “That kid knew what he wanted to do in ninth grade and by golly he accomplished it. All-American at Texas, played in a Super Bowl in the NFL. That’s just awesome.”
Practices and games with Dronett brought back memories for Atchley.
“Shane always had that big old grin on him and you never knew what was behind it, usually it was a prank,” said Atchley. “Shane was as intense as he could be at just about every practice and when it came game time, look out. But he always had fun doing it. He would always make funny jabs and remarks to his teammates but a lot of it was directed at me and I just loved it.”
Athcley remembers one Dronett moment in a big district matchup against Little Cypress-Mauriceville.
“Back in those days, Bridge City and LC-M weren’t exactly what you would call buddies and we had some battles,” said Atchley. “That whole week in practice I was yelling out to the kids about setting the tempo, setting the tempo, setting the tempo. Well, on the opening kickoff of that game, the LC-M return man made a fair catch and Shane just went on to level the kid. Shane came running off the field, I grabbed him by the facemask and said, ‘Son, what are you doing?’. Shane responded by saying, ‘Coach, I’m just trying to set the tempo!’. I still chewed on him a bit but that might be one of my fondest memories in the coaching business. God, love him, it’s just hard to believe that he’s gone.”
West Orange-Stark coach Dan Hooks was stunned by the news.
“What a tragic loss for Bridge City and all of Orange County,” said Hooks. “Shane was an icon for the area and my deepest sympathies go out to his family. He was such a great kid.”
Though Hooks’ Mustangs always battled Dronett and the Cardinals, the long-time WO-S head coach found even more respect for Dronett after Dronett played his final prep game.
“Our coaching staff was very fortunate to coach in the 1989 (Texas Coaches Association) All-Star Game and Shane was on that team,” said Hooks. “He was such a leader for our team, we selected him as the team captain. He was such a pleasant kid. It was always yes sir or no sir with him. He was such a physical specimen too. I watched him grow up with my own eyes, watching him go from a long, rangy kid to a big, strong man. I loved watching him at Texas and it was even better when I watched him play in the Super Bowl.”
Dronett was selected in the second round of the 1992 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos as an end. In his first season with the Broncos, he played in 16 games. He played for the Broncos from 1992-1995.
In 1996, Dronett joined the Atlanta Falcons and was released after four games. Dronett then played briefly for the Detroit Lions. In 1997, the Falcons hired Dan Reeves, the man who originally drafted Dronett to play for the Broncos, to be their new head coach, and he signed Dronett, who had just been released by the Lions.
In the 1998 season, Dronett anchored a defense that ranked second in the NFL against the run. That defense allowed only 75.2 running yards per game, and produced 313 tackles, 29.5 sacks, and 13 forced fumbles (11 recovered). The team won the NFC championship and played in Super Bowl XXXIII against Dronett's old team, the Broncos.
In January 2000, Dronett signed a five-year contract worth $20 million. In September, he suffered a torn ACL.
Both 2001 and 2002 were likewise marked by a series of injuries, including an ankle injury in October 2001, a knee injury in early 2002, and a season-ending shoulder injury in August 2002
In 2003 the Falcons released Dronett from his contract.
He finished with 44 sacks in 139 games and also had three interceptions.
Orange County lost one of its finest Wednesday morning.
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