For alumnus Brandon Brown, his return to East St. John is more of a mission than a coaching opportunity.
“To be football coach and athletic director is a dream job for me,” Brown said. “To be blessed to be back home and to be a leader, not just of this football program, I look at it as a different avenue. I look at it as God put me here for a reason, not only to be a football coach but to be able to touch and make a difference in young men’s and women’s lives.”
East St. John finished 5-6 last season, the same mark as in 2016. Add to that a 2-8 mark in 2015 and the Wildcats sported a three-year record under then-coach Alden Foster of 12-20.
Although the Wildcats failed to produce an overall winning record in three years, last year’s team featured a number of young players – meaning Brown will have a number of experienced players to work with in his first season as East St. John coach.
“We have a lot of guys back with experience that understand the game. It’s just a matter of teaching them a new system and they’ve caught on real well,” Brown said.
East St. John ran aspects of the spread as part of its offense last year. The Wildcats will be much more of a spread team this year but with a much quicker pace, according to Brown.
“We may have to slow the offense down a little bit just to give the defense a break,” joked Brown.
Leading the fast-paced offense will be Dasmain “Duke” Crosby, who goes into 2018 as a seasoned veteran.
“Going into his senior year, he understands what it takes to win. He’s been on both sides. He’s been on the side where he didn’t have much success. Last year they were average. He’s grown and matured and worked hard all summer,” Brown said of his quarterback.
Another senior returning to the backfield is running back Pershing Toney.
“Pershing Toney is another guy who understands his role and has been in a system who knows how to win. You see a guy like Pershing in the weight room and how he leads, those younger guys follow. He wants to go out a winner. He’s motivated, and he motivates the younger kids,” said Brown.
The Wildcats will have to replace the versatility of graded Shelvin Keller. The likely replacement is 5-foot-7, 151-pound Prentice Cook.
“Prentice Cook has an identical body type to him,” said Brown, referring to Keller. “(Prentice) is very, very shifty and real good in space. He will step us and help us a lot.”
The Wildcats also have other options in the backfield.
“We have some young guys like C.J. Gardner, who is a really big load. He’s tough to tackle. He kind of fools you. You see him and he’s like one big muscle. He’s like a big bowling ball but he’s very shifty. He can make a guy miss but he can also punish a guy as well,” Brown said of Gardner, who sports 185 pounds on a 5-foot-7 frame.
Providing a matchup problem for opposing defenses in the passing game is 6-foot-3, 225-pound tight end Hoxie Brown. Brown will continue to play tight end but will be more of an H-back in the offense this year.
“I tell Hoxie Brown the sky is the limit for him. If he reaches his full potential, I think it will be real scary for him. He doesn’t even know what God has blessed him with yet. We have been pushing him all summer long to try and get him to elevate his game. If that happens, it will be headaches for opposing teams,” coach Brown said.
Others at receiver include Dontae Fleming and Markel August.
“Those guys will only be juniors. When you look at those guys, you are looking at our future,” said Brown.
Reginald Foster will work in slot and out of the backfield for the Wildcats.
The new Wildcats coach said he likes the looks of his offensive line.
Romell Anthony, Juanta Johnson, Nelson Ramos and Tristian Green are all seniors. Jakobi Anderson, a heavily-recruited junior makes his presence felt on the line at 6-foot-5, 330 pounds.
“The good thing up front is we have some depth. We (also) have Tim Johnson in the mix. We are going to be OK up front. That’s not worry at all,” Brown said.
Brown intends to serve as his own defensive coordinator. Dwayne Davis returns as a defensive assistant and the terminology of the defense is similar to a year ago so that has made the learning curve for the Wildcats a lot easier, according to the head coach.
“I was able to keep Coach Davis, who was the defensive coordinator last year under Coach Foster,” said Brown. “He has a lot of knowledge and experience.
“He kind of understood I would come in and kind of run my defense but also I understand I needed a guy like him and we kind of met in the middle. I will be calling the defense, but he has a lot of influence on that. The fact he’s been with the kids the last three year and the terminology is kind of the same, it’s a pretty good marriage.”
The Wildcats will utilize a 4-2-5 alignment on defense. ESJ used the 4-2-5 along with the 4-3 a year ago.
“A lot of our blitzes are the same. A lot of our stunts are the same, and even down to coverages,” said Brown.
At defensive end, the Wildcats return a pair of seniors in Terrell Simmons and Matthew Billings.
“Those guys are workers,” said Brown. “They both are not very big. They are about 6-foot, 195 pounds, however, when you see their muscle structure you are really amazed. They stuck out to me from Day 1.”
A newcomer to the group is Charles Constantine, a 6-foot-1, 250-pound sophomore.
Although Welland Williams only is a sophomore, he started as a freshman and Brown said he considers the second-year starter to be the leader of group.
“He knows the game and he’s able to coach those guys up. We are looking to have a great year from him,” Brown said of the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Williams.
Manning the middle are linebackers Devontay Morgan and Trevion Hampton, who are eerily similar in many ways.
“They will not impress you with their height. Both about 5-6, 5-7. They are small, but they pack a powerful punch. They are both power lifters and work extremely hard. Their pad level is low. They are built that way by nature. They are students of the game,” Brown said of the duo.
Both also were among the first to want to learn the defensive system, asking for the playbook immediately after meeting the new coach for the first time.
“That touched my heart. I was like, ‘wow, we have some players here who are serious about football,’” Brown recalled.
The nickel back for East St. John is Kendrell Holmes.
The headliner of the secondary is 6-foot-2, 182-pound cornerback Jarius Monroe. Monroe’s older brother, Darius, played quarterback and defensive back at East St. John before starting for four years in the secondary at Tulane.
“Jarius Monroe is a big-time player. He has been getting a ton of interest. He attended Texas A&M’s camp in the summer,” Brown said.
At the other corner is junior Howard Joseph, who has drawn an early offer from Idaho and the Southern Jaguars also have shown interest.
“Howard kind of plays with a chip on his shoulder He feels like he doesn’t have the respect because everybody respects Monroe, so they will come at him. In his mind, he will make them pay. He’s the hardest worker on the team, bar none. He never misses a day. He’s a program kid. He will do everything right,” said Brown.
At safety is Shawn Sterling, who has been an inspirational leader to his teammates.
“One day I was talking to Howard, just praising him and that I appreciated his work ethic and dedication. He said, ‘Coach, I have to be honest with you. I couldn’t work as hard as I work if it wasn’t for Shawn. Sometimes when I get tired, I look over at Shawn and I’m like, “man, you not tired, yet?” Maybe you guys don’t see that, but Shawn is the reason I go the way I go,’” recalled Brown.
Amari Bernard is another junior safety.
“I think the strength of our defense will be our secondary, which will allow us to do a lot of different things up front. We will mix coverages. We will play some man and zone and zone blitz,” said Brown.
Marcus Jackson is handling kicking duties. Lonnie Ellis, who handled the kicking last year, may opt to concentrate on baseball. Alex Reyes did some kicking last year.
Being an alumnus of East St. John, Brown is aware of the rugged district the Wildcats compete in with the likes of Stephen Robicheaux’s Destrehan Wildcats and Nick Saltaformaggio’s Hahnville Tigers.
“This district is like playing in the SEC,” Brown declared. “You know Coach Robicheaux will do a great job at Destrehan. It looks like he can graduate 30 kids and the next year they are even better. That’s a testament to his program.
“Coach Saltaformaggio, the same thing. Year in and year out, you have to deal with programs like that. It’s going to be challenging. I think our guys will be ready.”
In terms of goals, Brown said he tells his team that they need to do better than the previous year. It was a formula that worked for Brown during his tenure at St. Helena. His St. Helena teams improved each season and finally reached the state championship game a year ago.
“Last year those guys were 5-6 and lost in the first round of the playoffs. A first-round playoff loss and we didn’t get any better. We can go 9-1 and lose in the first round – to me, we didn’t get any better. We have to take that next step and that next step is at least the second round of the playoffs,” Brown said.
There also are loftier goals.
“Ultimately, as a coach, you always want to win a state championship,” Brown said. “For me, personally, I just left there. When I left St. Helena, we made it to the state championship in December and didn’t win. We didn’t get it done. It’s kind of still in my heart. I want to get back and finish the mission and get it done. I’m like, ‘why not here, why not now?’ The Good Lord has put me back for a reason and maybe that’s it. I wasn’t at home. Now I’m home and it will mean more if I can get that state championship here at East St. John.”