Judd Boswell, Daryl Jones and Herbert Davis will probably feel like proud fathers this weekend. The three high school football head coaches are likely to see one each of their former players get their names called out in the first fiverounds of the NFL Draft.
Boswell coached Cam Akers at Clinton High. Jones coached Damien Lewis at Canton High. Davis coached Saahdiq Charles at Madison Ridgeland Academy.
Those three former Metro Jackson stars are projected to be the first three Jackson area high school players chosen in the NFL Draft, which starts with the first round on Thursday night at 8 on ABC, ESPN and NFL Network. The second and third rounds are Friday at 7 p.m. and fourth-seventh rounds are Saturday at 11 a.m. Most draft experts project all three to be taken between the third and fifth rounds.
Akers played running back at Florida State, Lewis offensive guard at LSU and Charles offensive tackle at LSU.
The 5-foot-10, 217-pound Akers burst on the college football season as a freshman and broke the Florida State school record for most rushing yards by a freshman with 1,204 yards, passing Dalvin Cook’s mark. Akers finished fifth in career rushing at Florida State, a school known for producing many NFL running backs. Akers was named second team All-Atlantic Coast Conference this past year in his junior season and decided to enter the NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-3, 332-pound Lewis was a two-time junior college All-American at Northwest Mississippi Community College and was rated No. 3 offensive guard by 247Sports. Lewis signed with LSU and started 28 straight games, the final one the national championship victory over Clemson. He blocked for Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow in the most prolific offense in college football history, averaging 48.4 points per game. Lewis was named a first-team All-American this season. He was regarded as LSU’s strongest player with a 475-pound bench press and a 635-pound squat.
The 6-4, 327-pound Charles started 28 games for LSU, including starting his first collegiate game, the first LSU offensive lineman to do that in 60 years. Charles started nine games and helped LSU win the national championship and be named the top offensive line in the country this past year. Charles decided to enter the NFL draft as a junior.
While Lewis, Charles and Akers are three of the best in the country at their respective positions, they got their start in high school and Boswell, Jones and Davis were instrumental in the start of their journeys to where they are now.
“I was going into my first spring at Clinton and I asked Cam’s parents if it was ok if he practiced with us that spring. He was still an eighth grader, but I knew he was going to be special,” Boswell said. “He started our first game at quarterback that fall as a 13 year old ninth grader against Meridian and the rest is history. He threw and ran for about 1,500 yards as a freshman against Class 6A competition and he got better every year. I will put him up against the best in Mississippi history (Akers passed and ran for 5,233 yards and 65 touchdowns as a senior and was named Mississippi Player of the Year and an All-American. Akers had 13,243 yards and 149 TDs in his high school career). That’s how good Cam is. The cat can play. He can beat you with his legs and his arm. He can run for 250 and pass for 300 before you blink. Not only is Cam a great athlete, no one will out work him. And he keeps his nose clean, too.
“I knew he was going to do well at Florida State. He had a great career there. I have no doubt Cam will do well in the pros. He’s just as good as any other running back in the draft. I look for him to be a pro bowl type player before his career is over unless he gets hurt. I’m looking forward to seeing where he goes. I’m going to hang out with Cam and his parents at their house Friday and watch the draft (the second and third rounds). It’s going to be awesome.”
Just like Boswell and Akers at Clinton, Jones’ first year at Canton was when Lewis was in high school.
“When I met Damien for the first time (going into his junior season) he asked me if we were going to get a good offensive line coach,” Jones said. “I assured him that we would. I was fortunate enough to hire Joe Jefferson. He was a guy who had coached his offensive line his entire career on the college level (at Jackson State, North Carolina A&T, Langston University and Bethel College and did internships with four NFL teams). Damien was like a sponge. He became a technician under Coach Jefferson’s tutelage. Coach Jefferson often used Damien to assist him in coaching younger players.
“Damien was hungry for success once he reached college. He excelled academically as well as athletically. He was able to narrow his focus. All of this was possible because of a commitment to his relationship with Jesus. His spiritual mentor Jasper Bacon from Canton was able to help Damien prioritize his life.
“Damien is a very conscious person as a player. He has risen to the occasion at each level of competition. My prediction is that he will do the same in the NFL. I would not be surprised if he earns a starting job during training camp.”
Charles found a new position when he transferred from Madison St. Joseph to MRA during the summer before his junior season.
“When he came here he had never played offense, only defense. But because of some injuries and us wanting him to try it, he did and became a great one for us. He is one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached,” said Davis, who has been a head coach for 23 seasons. “Saahdiq has such good feet, he would do great in our drills. I’ve been around enough college players to know what it takes to be a good one in college and I could tell Saahdiq was a good enough athlete to do well in college. And he has. He has had a great college career.
“I still think Saahdiq will improve a lot once he gets in the NFL. He will be a starter one day there. He’s proven he can play at the highest level of college football. He’s a three- year starter for the national champions. You don’t do that without having a lot of talent.”