By Robert Wilson

Aubrey Blackwell comes from a long line of home builders. His father, grandfather, great grandfather and even his great great grandfather were home builders.

Blackwell says he is a builder, too. Blackwell, the new head football coach at Jackson Academy, builds football programs and molds young men and he has been given the task to continue to build on what former national championship and five-time state championship coach Lance Pogue had done in the last five seasons at JA, the last two as head coach.

Blackwell was announced Monday at JA’s new coach, coming from Alabama where he has lived all his life.

Blackwell, a 40-year-old former high school quarterback and college baseball player, comes to JA from Benjamin Russell High in Alexander City, Ala., where he had a 3-7 record in his one season there, playing in Alabama High School Activities Association Class 6A. Before Benjamin Russell, Blackwell led Montgomery Catholic to a 54-19 record in six seasons and reached the AHSAA Class 3A state championship game in 2020. Before Blackwell came to Catholic, the program had had only two winning seasons in 19 years. He led his team to the playoffs the last five seasons and had 12-, 11- and 10-win seasons. 

“This is not just a home run, this is a grand slam,” said JA associate head of school of student life Jimmy Messer, who was hired earlier this spring and oversees the athletic department. “I have known Aubrey for 12 years and worked with him for three years at St. Paul’s (in Mobile). He is not only an outstanding coach but a great human being. He helped totally change the culture at Montgomery Catholic during his time there while also winning football games. Our team will benefit from his influence on the field, in the weight room, in the classroom, and in the halls. He will be focused not only on coaching athletes in the game of football but also on preparing them for the game of life. I believe exciting times are ahead for JA Raider football and our entire athletic program.”

Before coming to Catholic, Blackwell was offensive coordinator at St. James in Montgomery for two seasons and assistant coach at St. Paul’s in Mobile for three seasons.

Before becoming a high school coach, Blackwell was an assistant baseball coach at his alma mater, the University of Montevallo and Campbell University. He played football and baseball at Robert E. Lee High in Montgomery and played baseball at Central Alabama Community College and Montevallo.

“I am honored and excited to begin this new journey with the Jackson Academy family,” Blackwell said. “I look forward to working diligently with our faculty, coaches, and community to help build a strong family atmosphere. (Blackwell’s wife) Brandi, (two children) Will (fifth grader), Kayla (fourth grader), and I are ready to build relationships and be an integral part of the Raider community. I will strive daily to do all the small things necessary to develop young men of character, integrity, toughness, and faith. Together as one, we will develop a life-giving culture that we all will be very proud of and want for years to come.”

“I’m a builder,” Blackwell said in a story in the Montgomery Independent in December 2020, when he took the Benjamin Russell job. “My grandfather, my dad, my great grandfather, my great great grandfather were all home builders. It’s in my blood to see something and build it up. I love building young men up. I want to see the change. God calls me to do that.”

JA has not won a state championship in football since Coach David Sykes led the Raiders won three consecutive state titles in 2009-2011.

Pogue, who resigned April 11 from JA, took the Raiders back to the state championship game in his first season as head coach in 2020 for the first time since Sykes did it in 2013. After three years as defensive coordinator, Pogue replaced Larry Weems as head coach. Pogue – won a national championship, five state titles and 126 games in 10 seasons at South Panola – led JA to a 10-4 record and a MAIS Class 6A runner-up finish to Madison-Ridgeland Academy. JA defeated Jackson Prep 28-21 in the state semifinals to end Prep’s 12-game consecutive win streak over JA. It was Ricky Black’s final game at Prep’s head football coach. Black, the second winningest football coach in Mississippi history, resigned the next February. Pogue led JA to an 8-4 record and the 6A state semifinals last season. He has won 228 games in 24 seasons and was announced as the new football coach at MAIS defending Class 5A state champion Columbus Heritage this week.

JA returns 10 starters, five on offense and five on defense, from last year’s team. Denham Mitchell is the top running back returning (143 yards) and also led the team with five interceptions last season. Merritt Nations is the top receiver returning with 32 catches for 629 yards and six touchdowns last season. Win Hooker is the top tackler returning with 89 tackles and 6.5 sacks a year ago and Adams Kennedy returns after getting 81 tackles last season.

Key losses to graduation were three players who made the Prioirity One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson second team – defensive end and East Central Community College signee Max Walenta, wide receiver and Mississippi State signee Dakota Jordan and punter-kicker Scott Swalley. Other important players Blackwell must replace are three All-MAIS Class 6A selections – running back and Alabama A&M signee Marcus Harris, all-purpose player Trey Adams and defensive back and East Central CC signee Kris Robinson – along with quarterback and Mississippi Gulf Coast CC signee Tate Collins.

JA opens the season at Starkville Academy Aug. 19.