From the resumption of practice after a coronavirus-induced shutdown, East St. John’s football players have been sporting helmets with the Wildcats’ logo on one side and nothing on the other side.
That’s been part of a motivational ploy by ESJ coach Brandon Brown.
“The notion is East St. John has always had great athletes, but they weren’t well-coached, they weren’t well-disciplined, they really didn’t work hard,” said Brown, entering his third year as coach of his alma mater. “So, we just want to come and have that tough work ethic and tough mentality. We teach our guys we work for everything, even the number on your jersey and the number on your helmet. You have to work for it.
“We start out by asking the guys, ‘Give me a number that you want, that you desire,’ and then we sent some goals: ‘So, what are your goals? How are you going to reach that number?’”
When the players took the practice field on Labor Day, there were jersey numbers on the practice uniforms but still no numerals on the helmets. Just because a player had a certain number didn’t mean that was going to be his official number that would be placed that day on his helmet by Brown personally.
“When we started practice, those guys had a different number. They were random numbers,” explained Brown. “They (the players) were like, ‘Coach, is this my number?’ ‘No, you haven’t earned them, yet.’
To that point, the players had earned the right to wear their logo on one side of the helmet.
“The ‘E’ is what we represent,” said Brown. “We talk about, ‘It’s all about the ‘E’. That just symbolizes who we are as a team. On the other side symbolizes who you are as an individual. That’s the concept behind that.”
One player, sophomore receiver Ashton Williams, had No 9 on his practice jersey. When Brown put numbers on the helmet, Williams had earned his coveted No. 10.
The number has special meaning to Williams, who is the cousin of a former Wildcat receiver who wore No. 10 – Demonte Coxie. After a star career at East St. John, Coxie is now one of the top collegiate receivers in the country at the University of Memphis.
“Ashton, he’s going to be a great asset to us and our program for years to come. Demonte Coxie is his cousin. He idolized him. He (Williams) was, ‘Coach, I want to wear 10. I want to wear 10.’ I’m like, ‘That’s some big shoes to follow. You really have to work to get it.’ He’s done an excellent job here. He’s been everything that we want for a young man. He’s just only going to be a sophomore, so the sky is the limit for him.”
“In high school, he (Coxie) was a big role model for me, to just see how he worked and his work ethic. I just felt like I needed to match that. He put forth all the effort and always took the extra step to make sure he was in the right position to be where he’s at. I feel like I have to do the same thing,” said Williams.
How did Williams go about earning the number?
“I had to work hard. Practice, practice, practice, non-stop and just go hard every day,” said Williams.
Like Williams, another ESJ receiver had his eyes on a certain number because of a family connection.
Junior Kylon Harris wanted the No. 3 jersey worn by his cousin Dontae Fleming.
“It means a lot because Dontae – he’s at ULL right now – and he really put on for this number. He’s my cousin and I just wanted to follow in his footsteps,” said Harris.
“In football, he’s a receiver, but we had Markel August, we had Dontae Fleming, we had Raydell and Rydell Jackson. He had guys in front of him, but he has really bought into the program and what it’s all about,” said Brown.
Harris may have had to bide his time as a receiver in football, but he’s been a big presence in ESJ athletics in basketball and baseball.
“Kylon Harris, when I speak of him, I just speak of, ‘Buy-in.’ He just bought into the program. He’s been a starting point guard since he was a true freshman on the basketball court. He starts out here on the baseball field,” Brown said.
Cortez Fisher, a sophomore running back, wanted No. 2. His choice, like that of Williams and Harris, was due to players who came before him. Unlike Williams and Harris, Fisher’s motivation didn’t come from any East St. John legacy.
“I’ve seen all the high school greats, Ronnie Jackson and Ashaad Clayton of Colorado. They just graduated last year. They were real great in No. 2 and I just feel like it’s a blessing because I’ve been wanting to wear No. 2,” said Fisher.
Jackson played high school football at Edna Karr in New Orleans. He originally signed with Texas-San Antonio and is now at Nicholls. After starring at Warren Easton in New Orleans, Clayton is now a Colorado Buffalo.
Player wanted certain numbers for different reasons.
While Williams, Harris and Fisher, Rayquan Williams, a junior defensive lineman, seemed more interested in style points.
“It’s always been a number I always wanted since I was young. It just looked good. I really don’t know, I just like the way it looked,” said Rayquan Williams.
When did he figure he earned his No. 9?
“When we first started the one-on-ones and I was really beating everyone I was going against.”