Robert Wilson spent 23 years at The Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News as a sportswriter with more than half of those years covering high school sports, mostly in the Metro Jackson area. He helped chose the All-Metro teams in various sports for more than a decade. Wilson rebirthed this team two years ago with Priority One Bank All-Metro Football Team with 50 players and a Coach and Player of the Year. With the help of high school and college coaches, Wilson selected the best players from Hinds, Madison, and Rankin Counties.
By Robert Wilson
The Priority One Bank Metro Jackson Football Player and Coach of the Year – Madison-Ridgeland Academy’s Davis Dalton and Brandon High’s Sam Williams – love watching receivers.
Dalton, the MRA senior wide receiver and Southern Miss commit, said Oxford High and Ole Miss alumnus and current Seattle Seahawks All Pro wide receiver D.K. Metcalf is one of his favorites. Williams, who just completed his first year as Brandon’s head coach, said former Clemson star and current All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins of the Arizona Cardinals is his favorite.
Williams, who played wide receiver at Northwest Rankin High and Mississippi State, liked former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who ranks 10th all-time in NFL history for receptions and receiving yards, and former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, who holds multiple receiving franchise records, in Williams’ younger days.
Many high school football fans are raving about Dalton’s receiving talents and Williams’ coaching talents after their performances this season.
Dalton and Williams headline the third annual Priority One Bank All-Metro Jackson Football Team.
The 6-foot-3, 195-pound Dalton caught 89 passes for 1,586 yards and 15 touchdowns and led MRA to its third consecutive MAIS Class 6A state championship. His receiving yards were second highest in Mississippi and 18th highest in the country, according to MaxPreps. Dalton caught a Mississippi record 388 receiving yards – 17th best in history among high schools in the country according to MaxPreps – in MRA’s 50-20 victory over Jackson Prep this season.
Williams, who came to Brandon this year from Ridgeland High, guided the Bulldogs to a 11-3 record and a MHSAA Class 6A runner-up finish. He was able to turn around last year’s 5-6 team into one of the top teams in the state, taking Brandon to the state championship game for only the second time in school history.
Dalton started making headlines in his first game last season as a junior for MRA. In his first career start, Dalton caught six passes for 146 yards and three TDs, the last one was a 10-yard TD catch on fourth down with 7 seconds to play in a 27-26 victory over Trinity Christian (Texas), one of the top teams in the country, to open the 2020 season at MRA. NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, then the offensive coordinator for Trinity Christian and now Jackson State’s head coach, called Dalton’s performance “spectacular.” Dalton was named the Priority One Bank Metro Jackson Football Player of the Week.
Dalton continued to excel and caught 38 passes for 742 yards and 14 TDs and helped MRA to a 12-0 record and a second straight MAIS Class 6A state title last season. He was named to the second team of the Priority One Bank Metro Jackson Football Team. Also, MRA’s kickoff specialist and punter last season, Dalton had 12 touchbacks in nine games and averaged 38.3 yards per punt.
Dalton, a member of the Priority One Bank Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Football Team, performed even better this season. He had seven games where he had at least 100 receiving yards. Six of the other seven games Dalton didn’t play the whole game because MRA was way ahead. In only one game that he played the whole game did he not reach 100 – against Oakland, Tenn., which won its second straight Tennessee state title with a 15-0 record and is ranked No. 24 in the nation by MaxPreps. He averaged 8.5 catches and 127 yards against two-time MAIS Class 3A state champion and nationally ranked Greenville Christian and Arkansas state champion Pulaski Academy. He averaged 8.5 catches and 136 yards in two playoff victories over Jackson Academy and Hartfield.
Dalton was MRA sophomore quarterback John White’s top receiver. White, the All-Metro first-team quarterback, had an incredible season himself. He completed 67.9 percent of his passes for 3,935 yards, 19th best in the country by MaxPreps, and 39 TDs. By comparison, White averaged more passing yards per game than the last two Metro Jackson Players of the Year, Brandon High alumnus and current Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers and Ridgeland alumnus and current Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Zy McDonald.
Dalton’s performance against rival Jackson Prep on Oct. 1 was historic. He caught 14 passes for 388 yards and three TDs in a 50-20 victory. Davis caught TD passes for 67, 64 and 41 yards. He had 260 yards on eight catches by halftime.
Davis might even be a better punter than receiver. The son of a kicker – his dad Todd kicked at Clinton High and Arkansas State – Dalton averaged an amazing 48.3 yards on 15 punts. He had a long of 65 yards and six punts downed inside the 20. His punting average would have ranked No. 5 in the country, according to MaxPreps, if he had one more punt. The minimum requirement was 16 punts for the season.
Todd worked with Davis growing up and took him to various punting camps and he thought punting was going to be his position to getting a college scholarship before Davis became an outstanding receiver.
Dalton contributes his success this season to his offseason regiment.
“I gained about 10 pounds and cut my 40-yard dash time to 4.54 seconds in the off season,” Dalton said. “I also learned how to be more physical against defensive backs. I got a lot of reps during 7-on-7 tournaments in the summer to improve route running.”
“Davis helped himself a lot in the off season to get in sync with (quarterback) John (White) and also go against some of the cornerbacks around in 7-on-7,” MRA coach Herbert Davis said. “He also got faster and stronger this summer. He is about the best I’ve ever coached at catching the ball and going, attacking, and finding the ball even if it’s not a perfect throw.”
Davis, a forward, helped MRA to a 33-3 record and an Overall Tournament championship in basketball last season. Davis, who worked his way into the starting lineup once he got into basketball shape from football, scored 12 points in MRA’s overtime victory over Greenville Christian for the Overall title. Dalton made a rebound basket at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
Williams, 30, is considered one of the, if not the best, young head coaches in Mississippi high school football. After graduating from MSU, he was an assistant for five seasons at his alma mater Northwest Rankin, coaching wide receivers and special teams and was the offensive coordinator for three seasons. Williams has a 48-17 record, a 73.8 winning percentage, in five seasons as a head coach. He was 27-11 record in three seasons at Pelahatchie High, taking the Chiefs to the MHSAA Class 2A playoffs each season. Williams was then 10-3 in his only season at Ridgeland High and took the Titans to the MHSAA Class 5A semifinals before coming to Brandon, where he replaced Tyler Peterson.
Williams, who had 15 returning starters from last year’s team, got off to a slow start this season. He lost his first two games to two tough opponents, 24-17 at 2020 MHSAA Class 6A state runner-up Oxford and 42-19 to this year’s 6A state champion Madison Central.
But things changed for Williams on the Friday night of Sept. 12 against Clinton at Brandon when his sophomore quarterback Landon Varnes completed a 26-yard TD pass to junior Devin Thipgen with 3 seconds to play for a come-from-behind, 31-24 victory.
Said Williams after the game: “It was a big-time atmosphere, a big-time win, and something for us to really hang our hat on as we transition into a tough district schedule.”
Williams guided Brandon to 11 straight victories, including two of defending MHSAA Class 6A state champion Oak Grove, and the state championship game, a rematch with Madison Central and first-year coach Toby Collums, a good friend of Williams. Williams was Collums’ offensive coordinator the first two years Collums was at Northwest Rankin before Williams took the job at Pelahatchie. Williams was able to get to the state championship game despite losing his top running back, sophomore Nate Blount, to a knee injury in the first round of the playoffs against Harrison Central.
Williams didn’t bring home Brandon’s first state championship – Madison Central scored the winning touchdown with 3 ½ minutes to play for a 24-17 victory – but he set the foundation for a successful program.
“It was important for me to tell the players my core values and beliefs when I first got here,” said Williams, whose wife Rachel and he have three children, Caroline, 5 years old, Catherine, 4, and Luke 2. “I wanted to have success in Year One. Sometimes that’s hard. I give credit to my assistant coaches and our players for getting it done this season. They believed and had faith that we could accomplish big things in my first year at Brandon. It was a special year and a special team. To show you how special, we had a team meeting a few days after the state championship game and there were many tears shed. These kids loved each other and cared for each other.”
Williams credits the late David Coates, who coached at Northwest Rankin for 19 years, for getting him to play football.
“Coach Coates’ son and daughter were my age and I’ve been knowing their family for a long time,” Williams said. “I played a lot of soccer and baseball growing up with them.”
When Williams was a freshman and playing soccer at Northwest Rankin, Coates suggested he come out for football.
“Coach said he thought I would make a good wide receiver,” said Williams, whose father, Kent, played minor league baseball for the California Angels organization and his mother, Didi, was a cheerleader at MSU.
Coates was right. Williams became a star at Northwest Rankin, so good he earned a spot as a walk on at MSU. The 6-2, 200-pound Williams was a special teams standout and a backup wide receiver for the Bulldogs from 2009-2012.
Williams – who is also Brandon’s athletic director – credits many coaches for his current success, most importantly Coates, former MSU head coach Dan Mullen, former MSU strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis and Collums.
“Mullen is a great coach and very knowledgeable and I tried to soak up as much as I could from him,” Williams said. “Matt was fantastic as what he does. He made a major impact on the players at MSU. He took our strength and conditioning to a different level and taught us to believe in ourselves. Toby has taught me a lot about football, and we are good friends. I owe him a lot. It was pretty cool that we played each other in the championship game.”
Collums, last year’s All Metro Coach of the Year after leading Northwest Rankin to an impressive turnaround season, knew Williams was going to be a successful coach when he was an assistant at Northwest Rankin.
“When Sam was coaching with us at Northwest, the kids gravitated towards him,” Collums said. “A head coach can tell when an assistant will make a good head coach and Sam had all the makings of one. I knew he was going to be successful.
“Sam is great with kids. He cares about them and develops relationships with them. He’s genuine. There are many coaches who might be good with the Xs and Os on offense and defense and Sam has a football mind, but he truly gets it because he cares of his kids. He has a bright future.”
Williams credits his staff for making his transition easy and smooth in his first season and for the success Brandon had. Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Wyatt Rogers, defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Greg Robinson along with Nate McLaurin (running backs), Skyler Parker (wide receivers), Eli Martin (wide receivers assistant), Tyler Stanley (offensive line), Marc Herrington (tight ends and H backs), Bryce Middleton (inside linebackers), Clark Pullen (outside linebackers, strength and conditioning), Taveze Calhoun (cornerbacks and strength and conditioning), Eugene Clinton (safeties), Blake Eaton (defensive backs assistant), Randy West (kickers and punters), Phillip O’Brien (film) and Daniel Best (gameday assistant) helped Williams coach the Bulldogs to one of the best seasons in school history.
“Sam is a class act,” said Rogers, who has been offensive coordinator at Brandon for 12 seasons and is the father of former Brandon and current MSU quarterback Will Rogers. Will’s younger brother, Luke, is a junior offensive lineman at Brandon and a member of the first team All-Metro this season.
“Sam brought our team together as one. He brought energy and positive approach that we didn’t have before. Sam genuinely cares about kids. Our kids saw this and completely bought into his approach.”
Player of the Year – Will Rodgers – Brandon High School
Coach of the Year – Herbert Davis – MRA
Player of the Year – Zy McDonald – Ridgeland High School
Coach of the Year – Toby Collums – Northwest Rankin