Photo by Chris Todd (Griffin) and Hays Collins (Bowman)

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 choose the All-Metro teams in various sports for more than a decade. Wilson rebirthed this team four 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

       Velma Jackson’s Gavin Griffin and Hartfield Academy’s Craig Bowman – the PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Football Player and Coach of the Year – had incredible performances in championship games this season.

       The 5-foot-10, 195-pound Griffin gained a career-high 316 yards and scored six touchdowns and a pair of 2-point conversions to break the 2,000-yard barrier for the season in Velma Jackson’s 53-49 loss to Biggersville in the MHSAA Class 1A state championship game. Griffin scored 40 points in the game to give him 314 points for the season to become Mississippi’s all-time single season leader in points.

       Bowman led his team to its first state football championship in school history with a 21-0 victory over defending state champion Jackson Prep for the MAIS Class 6A state title to become the first team in largest class in MAIS history to finish with a 14-0 record and hold Prep scoreless for the first time since the 2004 season.

       Griffin finished his remarkable high school career with an outstanding and historic senior season. He gained 2,096 yards on 185 carries – an average of 11.3 yards per carry – and scored 38 rushing touchdowns and 30 2-point conversions, caught 16 passes for 354 yards – an average of 22.1 per reception – and four receiving TDs. In addition, Griffin returned four kickoffs for 141 yards (a 35.3-yard average) and two TDs and nine punts for 251 yards (a 27.9-yard average) and three TDs. His total of 314 points broke the Mississippi record of Cameron Thomas of Picayune, who had 306 in 2019.

       And here’s the real kicker. Griffin only played about a half in the majority of the games this season because Velma Jackson was winning by such a wide margin.

       The Mississippi Association of Coaches named Griffin Class 1A Mr. Football.

       “I trusted God, my coaches and my teammates, and I worked harder than I have ever worked before in my life to be the player I am now,” Griffin said. “I stepped up my leadership skills to show all of my guys that I couldn’t do anything without them.”

Photo by Chris Todd

       Griffin’s ability to run and score resulted in the best football season in Velma Jackson’s school history. The Falcons won their first 13 games and reached the championship game for the first time. Velma Jackson had reached the semifinals twice, in 2016 and last season, but never the title game.

       The offensive front of senior center Fredrick Johnson (6-foot, 255 pounds), senior right guard JoAuri Archie (5-10, 255), junior right tackle Crishun Smith (6-2, 270), junior left guard Jamarion Merriweather (5-9, 245), freshman left tackle Eric Brown (6-2, 225) and senior H-back Gabriel Gee (5-9, 205) opened holes for Griffin all season.

       Said Griffin: “I give all the credit to my front five, without them there’s no me.”

       Velma Jackson coach Bernard Euell first saw Griffin when he was an eighth grader at Canton. Then Griffin transferred to Velma Jackson for his ninth-grade year.

       “The thing that makes Gavin so special is his hard work and determination to be the best. His parents have also been a very important factor in his greatness and success as a high school athlete,” Euell said. “Gavin’s maturity has been tremendous in his development as a player and leader for this team over the last three years. He has always been a leader in how he practiced and through his play on the field, but his maturity this year allowed him to be a more vocal leader this year.

       “The individual accomplishments that Gavin has achieved this year was incredible to watch not only as a coach, but also as a fan of this game. Every Friday, he brought his very best. Through all his accomplishments during the season, Gavin remained humble and hungry to accomplish even more for himself and this team. I was very grateful to have had the opportunity to coach a young man like Gavin. He is a generational type of talent. Gavin has definitely left his mark on the Velma Jackson football program. He meant a lot to the success of our team this year and we wish him all the best in the next chapter of his career no matter what college he attends. Gavin will always be a Falcon.”

       Griffin had a great game to put Velma Jackson into the title game this season. He gained 191 yards on 18 carries and scored three TDs, returned a punt for a 62-yard TD, and had four 2-point conversions to lead Velma Jackson to a 44-22 victory over Taylorsville in the semifinals. Griffin scored 16 points – a 1-yard touchdown run, a 62-yard punt return for a TD, and pair of two-point conversions – in a 2-minute span to tie up the game to ignite Velma Jackson from a 22-6 first-quarter deficit. Velma Jackson scored 38 straight points to clinch the victory.

“Gavin has meant a lot to the success of our team this year,” said Euell, who has been at Velma Jackson for eight seasons. “His leadership, hard work, and commitment to his teammates has been key for our team. Gavin’s punt return of the South State championship game is what sparked our team come from behind win. In my opinion, Gavin is definitely one of the top three running backs in the state of Mississippi. Gavin, in my opinion, is an elite running back.”

Canton coach Calvin Bolton coached Griffin in junior high at Canton before he transferred to Velma Jackson.

       “Gavin is a special kid,” Bolton said. “He has the ‘it’ factor. Gavin is a hard runner, one kid isn’t going to take him down. He is super strong and smart. Gavin knows the game of football. Gavin is going to make a good player for some college next season. I blocked for his dad (Ray Luckett) when we both played at Mississippi Valley. I played offensive line and he played running back. His dad was All-SWAC and SWAC Newcomer of the Year.”

Griffin has offers from Alcorn State, Jackson State, Mississippi Valley, and Southern University. Euell said Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Miss, Cincinnati, South Alabama, and Troy has shown interest in Griffin.

Griffin gained 1,663 yards on 183 carries (a 9.1-yard average) and scored 25 TDs in 10 games last season as a junior. He had nine games where he gained 100 or more rushing yards. Griffin also returned 11 kickoffs for a 28.1-yard average. He had a career-high 303 yards and six TDs against Leake Central last season.

Griffin gained 1,156 yards on 147 carries, a 10.3-yard average, and scored 16 TDs last season and led Velma Jackson to an 8-3 record and a No. 5 final ranking in Class 2A in MaxPreps two years ago as a sophomore.

Griffin is playing in the Mississippi/Alabama All-Star Game Saturday at Southern Miss in Hattiesburg.

Griffin is the son of Tiffany and Ray Luckett. Ray played football, basketball and track and field at Carthage High and played football at Mississippi Valley State. Tiffany graduated from Thomastown High and Mississippi Valley. Griffin’s brother, Ravion Henry, played basketball and ran cross country at Leake Central High and played basketball at East Central Community College, Delta State and Stillman, Ala., Institute.

“My whole family was always there no matter what the event was,” Griffin said. “They supported me through whatever. And I leaned on my dad for whatever I needed in the game football. We both played the same position so everything you see from me, I have to give all the glory to him for working with me and teaching me everything I know.”

       Bowman, in his fourth season at Hartfield (sixth overall), led the Hawks to perfect record and the MAIS Class 6A state title, the first football state championship in the school’s 12-year history. Also impressive was that it was only Hartfield’s third year in Class 6A.

       Bowman took his 13 returning starters and added three transfer starters and put together one of the most impressive seasons in MAIS history.

       The Hawks scored 40 or more points in seven games and allowed only one touchdown or less in seven games, including four shutouts.

“This team was easy to lead,” Bowman said. “They are a very mature group. They had very clear goals for the season and began working towards those goals since January. We knew what we wanted to accomplish as a team and the coaching staff, and the players were all willing to put in the time and work necessary to go undefeated and win a state championship. I am so grateful to be a part of this great staff and coach this team.”

Bowman had seven players who have Division I offers: senior running back and Southern Miss commitment Reed Jesiolowski, senior linebacker and Southern Miss commitment Chris Jones, junior defensive lineman Reginald Vaughn (many Division I offers, including six from the SEC), sophomore defensive back-wide receiver-return specialist Bralan Womack (many Division I offers, including six from the SEC), junior wide receiver-defensive back Kenzy West (Jackson State offer), senior offensive lineman and Jackson State commitment Antonio Ross and junior defensive lineman London Simmons (Alabama-Birmingham offer).

Jesiolowski ran for 2,030 yards and 23 TDs and had 267 receiving yards and five TDs this season. Jones led the team with 112 tackles, 20 for loss. Vaughn had 80 tackles, 20 for loss, and 10 sacks. Womack scored TDs five different ways. He has seven interceptions (tied for the most in Mississippi, according to MaxPreps) and one for TD and returned a fumble for a TD, caught 32 passes for 562 yards and 10 TDs, has 590 kickoff and punt return yards and four TDs (two kickoffs and two punts). He averaged 54.8 yards on kickoff returns and 30.1 yards on punt returns. West had 1,368 all-purpose yards and 14 TDs and four interceptions. Simmons had a team-high 15 sacks, six in the championship game (eighth most in Mississippi, according to MaxPreps).

       Bowman, 44, played football, basketball and ran track at Saint James School in Montgomery, Ala. A quarterback, Bowman played one year at Samford, then transferred to Millsaps College and played safety, one year for Ron Jurney and three years for Bob Tyler.

Photo by Chris Todd

“My dad (Clarence Bowman) is my biggest mentor,” Bowman said. “He was a high school football coach for years and finished his career as a principal in the public school system in Montgomery, AL. He and I could talk about anything, and I can remember all the times we had together where he taught me about leadership, being a good teammate, as well as all the other stuff a dad and his son discuss. 

“The other mentor I have in my life is my high school football coach Robert Johnson. He was always available to his players and taught me the importance of relationship and trust between a coach and his players.”

Bowman has always known he wanted to be a coach.

Sports have always been a big part of my life,” Bowman said. “I have two older brothers (Brannon and Scott Bowman) and we were constantly competing at something. But I believe playing at Millsaps solidified my decision to coach. I had the opportunity to be coached by coaches like Bob Tyler, Ronnie Gray, Jack Carlisle, and Johnny Plummer. Their coaches’ meetings were open to players and I would just go in there and sit and just listen. The amount of wisdom and knowledge was incredible and there is no way I truly appreciated the experience of being around those coaches.”

After graduating from Millsaps, Bowman went back to Alabama.

“I was able to go back and coach with my high school coach before being called to come to Belhaven University,” Bowman said. “I spent a year at Hartfield before getting the chance to go to Canton Academy and coach with my former college coach Ron Jurney. It was at Canton that I met Dennis Allen, former coach at West Point. I think I learned more about football in the two years that I was with Coach Jurney and Coach Allen than any other point in my career. We won a lot of games in 2015 and 2016, including a state championship in 2016. In 2017 I took over as head coach at Canton Academy. I was the head coach two years before coming back to Hartfield in 2019. Those first two years as head coach was a major learning curve for me in this profession. I made so many mistakes but learned and grew from the failures and successes we had there.”

Bowman took over as head coach at Hartfield six days before the first practice of the 2020 season.

 “I had to move really fast to establish the culture that I felt best served our players and our program,” Bowman said. “There are so many things I love about coaching. I love the relationships with the players and other coaches. I love the feeling of walking out of the locker room on a Friday night. But my why is to be a part of growing young men towards Christ. Football is such a great platform to connect players to the Gospel. It may not always look the way we want it, but we are striving for that goal. The vision of our school is “To every student fulfill their God-given purpose.” Our goal as a staff is that we use football to help support the vision of our school.” 

“Beyond dealing with long hours in the heat of the summer and preparing a team to compete, Craig Bowman understands how to connect with our school community and ultimately sees himself as a servant leader to the student-athletes, parents and faculty of our school,” Hartfield head of school David Horner said. “Coaching high school football is a demanding and challenging role and Coach Bowman works hard putting in the tie and attention to details, well beyond the X’s and O’s of the game.

“In the South, a school often gains a tremendous sense of pride, based on how they view their football program. Coach Bowman understands this while keeping first things first – leading our student athletes to grow into young men that will be leaders of families and communities in the near future. Certainly, I’m proud and grateful for the success of our team on the field. Craig did a great job. Even more than that though, I’m thankful for a coaching staff, led by Craig Bowman, that invests in the lives of the young men they lead and points them toward Christ on a daily basis.”

“Craig is an outstanding young football coach,” Hartfield athletic director David Sykes said. “He is a tireless worker both on and off the field and sets a great example for the young men on his team. He leads by example and makes every effort to fulfill the vision and mission of our school through his program.”

“Coach Bowman has meant a ton to me as a coach,” Jesiolowski said. “He has helped me and everyone else on our team grow as a man and a football player The main thing he did was make it fun. We had a lot of fun at practices and played loose. He showed us what a great leader does by his actions.”

Bowman has a 41-9 record – an 82 percent winning percentage – in his four seasons at Hartfield. The Hawks had never beaten the Big 3 6A schools – Jackson Prep, Madison-Ridgeland Academy and Jackson Academy – before defeating Prep in the regular season two years ago. Since then, Hartfield has a 9-3 record against those three teams, 3-0 against JA, 4-2 against Prep and 2-1 against MRA.

Bowman also coaches the wide receivers. His assistants are offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Pack Toler, defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Jeff McFerran, offensive line coaches Cody Saxton and Will Davis, defensive line coach Lee Dawkins, linebacker coach Stuardt Saxton, cornerbacks coach Rip Lindsey, safeties coach Shane Schurb, gameday operations Collin Owens and special teams coach Jarrett Myers.

       Bowman and his wife, Claire, have two boys, Ben, 13, and Sam, 12, both students at Hartfield. Ben is in the seventh grade and plays football, soccer, basketball and track and field. Sam is in the sixth grade and plays football, soccer, basketball and tennis.

Previous winners

Player of the Year
2022: Luke Rogers, Brandon
2021: Davis Dalton, MRA
2020: Zy McDonald, Ridgeland
2019: Will Rogers, Brandon

Coach of the Year
2022: Dameon Brown, Callaway
2021: Sam Williams, Brandon
2020: Toby Collums, Northwest Rankin
2019: Herbert Davis, MRA

Click Image to see First and Second All Metro Team