East Central football coach Seth Smith has heard it all before.
Coaches from a couple of in-state college programs recently checked in on senior running back Tony Brown, but they didn’t relay the message that everybody in Hurley has been waiting on.
“They said the same thing they’ve been saying, that they’re on the fence about offering. It almost gets old,” Smith said. “With 92 touchdowns in two years, I don’t know what else you have to show on the field.”
Brown wrapped up his high school career on Dec. 2 in a 41-35 loss to Noxubee County in the Class 4A state title game. He ran 14 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns against a program widely considered the most talented in all of 4A – in just 20 minutes of action.
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The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Brown left the game early in the second quarter due to a separated shoulder, carted off the field with fans chanting his name.
“Touchdown” Tony Brown is somewhat of a high school football legend on the Coast and that legend grew exponentially this week by becoming Mississippi’s first Gatorade Player of the Year from a Coast school since Dylan Favre did it in 2009 at St. Stanislaus.
Much like Favre during his high school days, fans of Brown feel that he’s been overlooked by the region’s top college programs.
However, there’s a major difference between Favre and Brown. Favre, who was tagged as undersized for a quarterback at 5-foot-10, drew at least five Division I scholarship offers, including Southern Miss and Mississippi State, before eventually signing with the Bulldogs. Brown’s numbers are every bit as gaudy as Favre’s, but he doesn’t have a single Division I scholarship offer. The only schools who have offered Brown are among the state’s top junior college programs, including Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Hitting the marks
Brown’s numbers are impressive. After rushing 364 times for 3,317 yards and 41 touchdowns as a junior, he had 267 carries for 2,758 yards and 47 touchdowns this year. He accounted for 92 touchdowns total the last two seasons.
His numbers would have been even more impressive this season if not for the fact that he often sat out the second half for an East Central team that finished with a 13-1 record.
Brown hits almost all the check marks needed to be considered a college football prospect:
▪ Good speed: He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. Touchdowns of 50 yards or more were commonplace throughout his career.
▪ Great power: An elusive runner, Brown also has enough strength to break through tackles. He’s a powerlifter who can power clean 315 pounds and squat over 500.
▪ Impressive vision: If there is a hole to run through, he will find it.
▪ Solid student: He has the grades with a 3.0 GPA and a 22 ACT.
▪ Good guy: By all accounts, he is a high-character young man.
While East Central doesn’t throw the ball much, Brown has also shown good hands when given the chance. He made 19 catches for 472 yards and three touchdowns during his career.
Coaches may see Brown as being a little on the small side, but that argument falls apart when you consider the long list of 5-8 or 5-9 running backs who became stars in the NFL. Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders and Maurice Jones-Drew are among that crowd.
Despite being neglected by the state’s programs, Brown is taking it all in stride.
“Most people would let this frustrate them them, but I’m a man who is a real believer in God and I know he’ll have my back,” he said.
‘He can do it all’
Smith, Brown and the rest of his teammates aren’t the only scratching their heads over the lack of a scholarship offer.
Moss Point head coach Eugene Harmon, a former Southern Miss linebacker, had to contend with slowing down Brown the last three years.
“I’m lost for words on why he doesn’t have an offer,” Harmon said. “We sit around and talk about it all the time. A lot of colleges are looking at the signs, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. I played college ball and I played with guys that had the size but weren’t football players. I played with guys who were undersized, didn’t have an offer, came in as walk-ons and turned out to have better careers than guys who signed a four-year scholarship.
“Tony Brown is a Division I football player. He has the speed, the quickness, the strength and the durability. To me, I just can’t explain it. At the end of the day, he’s a football player. He has the talent and he loves the game of football.”
George County coach Matt Caldwell is among the witnesses to Brown’s excellence. He ran 24 times for 260 yards and three touchdowns this season against a George County defense that features McKinnley Jackson, a sophomore defensive lineman committed to LSU.
“It didn’t matter who he played against. He performed well,” Caldwell said. “That says the most to me.”
College coaches also likely look at the numbers that prior East Central running backs have put up. A.J. Davis ran 437 times for 2,893 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2015. Nate Cohen ran 306 times for 2,436 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2014.
When you look closer at the numbers, you understand how much better Brown was than his two predecessors. Cohen averaged 8.0 yards a carry and Davis was at 6.6 yards per rush. Brown averaged 9.1 yards as a junior and a whopping 10.4 as a senior.
“He can do things kids who have run in that system can’t do,” Harmon said. “He can run. He can block. He can catch. He can do it all. He can play as a slot or a running back in a spread offense. Just given the opportunity, he can produce. He just needs that opportunity.”