By Robert Wilson

Callaway High coach Dameon Brown and Brandon High senior center Luke Rogers – the 2022 PriorityOne Bank Metro Jackson Football Coach and Player of the Year – had popular alumni from their respective schools keeping up with their progress this season.

Former Callaway players, like seven-year NFL standout and Super Bowl champion Tyrone Keys, kept close contact with Brown and the Chargers, who had a remarkable turnaround with a 9-3 record and reaching the second round of the MHSAA Class 5A playoffs, six wins better than last season. Their success was even more amazing considering Callaway, as a member of the Jackson Public Schools, didn’t play in 2020 due to covid.

Former Brandon players, like Mississippi State starting quarterback Will Rogers (Luke’s older brother and the 2019 Metro Jackson Player of the Year), encouraged Luke and the Bulldogs, which finished with a 12-2 record and were the MHSAA Class 6A state runner-up for the second consecutive year and only third time in school history. The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Rogers – a Southern Miss commitment – anchored the offensive front, which opened up holes for Brandon’s running backs, especially junior Nate Blount, and protected junior quarterback Landon Varnes. Brandon averaged 35.7 points and 487 total yards per game.

Brown – who played at Thomastown Attendance Center in Leake County and college at East Central Community College and Alcorn State – did a superb job this year for Callaway, where he has been since 2016.

He led Callaway to six consecutive victories to start the season before losing to Vicksburg, which won the Class 5A, Region 2 title. The Chargers’ only other regular season loss was to Neshoba Central, which finished second in the region ahead of Callaway. After finishing the regular season with an 8-2 record, the Chargers accomplished something only six other teams in school history had done – win a playoff game. Callaway went to Lafayette and came away with a 28-14 victory before losing a hard-fought, 27-22 game at Vicksburg to end its season. Callaway hadn’t won a playoff game since 2013.

While the other six JPS football teams (Forest Hill, Jim Hill, Lanier, Murrah, Provine and Wingfield) struggled to recover from not playing in 2020 – those teams had a combined 9-53-1 record the season – Callaway had one of the best teams in school history. Other than Callaway, only Provine (which finished 5-5) and Lanier (2-9) had wins over non-JPS teams. Provine defeated Gautier and Holmes County Central and Lanier defeated South Pike.

This year was the first winning season for Callaway since Brown’s first year in 2016 and the most wins since the 2013 team, which won its first 14 games and reached the 5A semifinals.

Keys – who was a high school All-American defensive lineman on the undefeated Callaway High football team which won the Big Eight Conference championship in 1975 – had a feeling this year’s Callaway team was going to be special when he visited the team this summer.

Keys knows football. He was an All-SEC defensive lineman at Mississippi State and played seven seasons in the NFL, including winning the 1986 Super Bowl with the Chicago Bears, famous for the “Super Bowl Shuffle.” He is a member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

“I went by this summer and watched them, and I had good feeling about Coach Brown and his team,” said Keys, who now runs a non-profit ministry (All Sports Community Services, in Tampa. “Coach Brown runs a disciplined ship and is very organized. He has a tremendous amount of energy and enthusiasm. What he has done is a testament to him. Coach Brown is a great leader of young men. He sees something in everyone. When I was watching them work out, they always ran off the field, did the little things needed to become a winner. He gets the best out of his kids. It is remarkable what they did this year after not playing in 2020. Coach Brown could have easily gotten down and gotten a job somewhere else, but he stayed. His spirits remained high, and he was dedicated to the Callaway program. Coach Brown’s dad was a coach at Canton High with the late Odell Jenkins, who coached me at Callaway. Coach Brown grew up in a coach’s home and it shows. I’m a big fan of Coach Brown.”

JPS athletic director Daryl Jones, who coached Callaway from 2009-2013, was impressed with Brown’s coaching and said that’s a big reason for Callaway’s success this season.

“Coach Brown has a knack for getting players to participate and play for him,” Jones said. “He has about 75 guys out there and he keeps them engaged and interested at practices and in games. He just doesn’t work with the first team or the star players. Coach Brown works the second team guys and also even gets the third team some reps. It’s pretty impressive what he does. His players have bought into his system.”

“We were a senior lead team that had playing experience,” said Brown, who coached at Powell Middle School in Jackson for two years before coming to Callaway. “We still haven’t completely recovered from it (missing the 2020 season). We lost some good, young talent due to us not playing. But we have forced on, developing guys we do have. We focused on discipline and understanding the scheme in all three phases of the game. Our guys took what they learned and cut the mistakes in half, which lead to a better season.”

Brown’s father, Peter Brown, was a football coach at Yazoo City, Canton, and Thomastown (where Dameon played for him) and athletic director at Canton and Thomastown.

“He plays a major role in my coaching success,” Dameon said. “He attends every game and gives me feedback on corrections I need to make.”

Brown, 34, and his wife, Melanie, have two children, Kelise, 4, and Khalil, 1.

Brown is the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks and running backs coach. Other on his staff are Danny Riche (defensive coordinator), Ben Hart (defensive line), Jarvis Durham (offensive line), James Lott (tight ends), Cordarian Courtney (wide receivers), Deveaunta McLin (defensive backs), Alexander Kerr (special teams) and Maylene Dunagan (football operations).

Callaway was led by senior Kedarius Wade, the team’s most versatile player who played quarterback, running back, receiver, linebacker, and returned kickoffs. He gained 514 yards (7.9 yards per carry) and scored 13 touchdowns, completed 5 of 6 passes for 40 yards, caught 26 passes for 338 yards and one TD, averaged 38.5 yards on four kickoff returns and has 27 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and 5.5 sacks this season. Wade – who is the all-purpose player on the All-Metro Jackson first team – has been offered by Mississippi State, Southern Miss, Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, and Louisiana Tech.

Other key players for the Chargers were senior defensive back-running back Quay Thompson, senior wide receiver Demarcus Brown, junior wide receiver Jeremy Scott, senior defensive lineman Chris Brown, junior defensive lineman Tavarious Pepper and junior defensive back JaVontae Mosley.

Rogers’ biggest Brandon alumni influence has been his record-setting brother, Will, although there were many other former players who contributed to the Bulldogs’ success. It’s not uncommon for former players – all the way back to former MSU standout and NFL running back Jerious Norwood, who many consider the greatest player in school history, – to come back and be around the team. There are others like current NFL players Gardner Minshew (a quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles) and Demario Davis (a linebacker with the New Orleans Saints) who give back to the team, school, and community.

“The alumni are very proud of Brandon and take a lot of pride in our team, so there are always expectations to live up to,” Luke Rogers said. “They are more supportive than any other alumni that I’ve seen.”

He has learned a lot from his older brother and his father, Brandon offensive coordinator Wyatt Rogers.

“The biggest lesson I’ve learned from them was that you never stay the same, you are either getting better or getting worse,” Luke Rogers said. “I’ve been going up to the school to work out on Sundays and after school in the offseason with my brother since I was in the seventh grade and when he left (to go to MSU) that didn’t change, so I would say our work ethics are very similar.”

📸 Jared Thomas

“Luke is a phenomenal player,” said second-year Brandon coach Sam Williams, who was the Metro Jackson Coach of the Year last season. “He was the anchor of our offensive line this year. Luke is a very cerebral kid who does a great job of getting in the right spots and executing. Luke is very athletic, so this helps him as both a run blocker and in pass protection. His versatility allowed us to do a number of things in the run game that you are traditionally not able to do. He has grown into a leader on our team and growing up as a coach’s son, Luke understands what it takes to be successful. He has bought into everything we have asked him to do since I have been here, and he continues to elevate us with his play on the field.”

“Luke is a hard worker that prides himself on being tough,” Wyatt Rogers said. “I’m very proud of him. Will and Luke are a lot alike. They are both incredible smart as far as knowing the game. They both work hard. It amazes me. Both would be out on the field by themselves all summer long. Both are fox hole guys. They aren’t going to quit.”

Rogers started at offensive left tackle for the past two seasons but moved to center this season. He is the rated No. 3 inside offensive lineman in Mississippi in the Class of 2023 by 247 Sports.

“Luke listens, learns, and applies just about everything you coach him up to do during the week,” Brandon offensive line coach Tyler Stanley said. “He has great feet and understands hat and hand placement in both run and pass game. Luke is a leader both vocally and by example. He’s always the first one on the field for practice and makes sure the locker room is clean also. While his physicality is apparent on Friday nights, I’d say the most impressive characteristic is his knowledge and understanding of the game. By transitioning to center, Luke has the ability to check the pass protection or run to put the offense in better situations, and he did a great job doing that.”

“Luke’s move to center was great for him long term because that is what he projects as at the next level,” Williams said. “Also, with him being such a smart player, it allowed us to take a lot off of Landon and allow Luke to make some calls and checks that normally would fall on the quarterback. Luke was was one of those guys on our team that everyone looked to in moments of adversity to calm the storm and we will miss him greatly both on and off the field. Luke has a very bright future and will excel as he moves onto USM and further his athletic and academic career.”

Rogers is scheduled to sign with Southern Miss later this month, graduate from Brandon early and enroll at Southern Miss in January.

“The adjustment to center was something I bought into early on because the coaches really believed it put us in the best position to succeed as a team,” Rogers said. “As the center, I’m the captain of the offensive line and the coaches gave me the power to check protections and run plays if I see something I don’t like. We were so successful as an offense because we bought into everything Coach Williams was saying. Our tempo was our biggest weapon and made defenses fall apart late in the game.”

Brandon’s offense was clicking in midseason form in the first game when the Bulldogs produced 564 total yards (284 passing and 280 rushing) in a 45-14 victory over Oxford. Then, Brandon had 405 total yards in a 28-7 victory over defending 6A state champion Madison Central. Brandon produced a season-high 584 yards in a 49-35 victory over Rankin County archrival Pearl. The Bulldogs had 559 yards in a 34-31 victory over previously undefeated Ocean Springs in the 6A semifinals.

Rogers’ and Brandon’s goal of winning a state championship for the first time in school history was stopped one game short for the second straight year in a 48-32 loss to Starkville in the 6A state title. Brandon’s offense, which had only 4 total yards in the first quarter, finished with 539 yards, rallying to score 22 points and gain 238 yards in the fourth quarter.

With the help of Rogers’ impressive play up front, Brandon’s skill players put up some big numbers this season. Varnes completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 3,358 yards and 26 TDs. Blount gained 2,013 yards and scored 26 TDs. Senior wide receiver Lester Miller caught 66 passes for 1,484 yards and 16 TDs.

Said Rogers: “We had a leadership team that is made up of leaders from every position group on the team so we made sure everything ran smoothly.”

Brandon’s offense was fine-tuned machine this season, and it all started with Rogers at center.

To view the full list of the PriorityOne Bank All Metro Football Team, click below!

Past Winners:

Coach the Year

2019: Herbert Davis, MRA

2020: Toby Collums, Northwest Rankin

2021: Sam Williams, Brandon

Player of the Year

2019: Will Rogers, Brandon

2020: Zy McDonald, Ridgeland

2021: Davis Dalton, MRA