High School Sports

Overlooked by D1 programs, Tony Brown piles up the touchdowns at East Central

East Central's Tony Brown slips past Jefferson Davis County's Ronald Baker on Sept. 8 at East Central High in Hurley.
East Central's Tony Brown slips past Jefferson Davis County's Ronald Baker on Sept. 8 at East Central High in Hurley. amccoy@sunherald.com File

Over the last two seasons, there may not have been a high school player in the nation who has rushed for more yardage than East Central senior running back Tony Brown.

After carrying 364 times for 3,317 yards and 41 touchdowns last year, Brown is at it again this season with 94 rushes for 760 yards and seven scores through four games. He continues to churn out the tough yardage and is a much more polished back as a senior, helping lead the Hornets to a 4-0 start and a No. 3 ranking in the Sun Herald Top 10.

All opposing defenses know that they have to slow down “Touchdown Tony Brown” if they’re going to beat the Hornets. An East Central football team that’s been an also-ran for much of its history is suddenly one of the best programs in South Mississippi with Brown serving as the centerpiece.

However, one thing is missing for the 5-foot-9, 187-pound Brown — A Division I football scholarship.

The only offer that Brown has at the moment is from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where he made a visit Thursday night to watch another MGCCC victory.

East Central head coach Seth Smith isn’t sure what coaches at the major programs in the region are missing on Brown.

“I guess they look at his frame because he’s 5-9, 180 pounds,” Smith said. “He’s a little undersized, but when you watch him on film he plays like he’s 6-2, 220. Very rarely does one person tackle him. If you power clean 315 pounds and squat over 500, you’ve got a ton of lower body strength and explosion. I don’t know what they’re missing.”

‘Total package’

Along with being a tough runner, Brown is usually the fastest man on the field with a 40-yard dash time of 4.48 seconds.

He doesn’t get to show it much in the East Central’s run-first offense, but he also has good hands out of the backfield and played receiver as a sophomore.

Brown, who is described as the “total package” and “high character” by Smith, isn’t sure why he hasn’t drawn his first four-year offer.

“I don’t know. I can’t answer that,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep playing my hardest.”

Brown’s numbers aren’t quite as gaudy as they were a year ago because the Hornets don’t need him to touch the ball on nearly every down like in 2016. Quarterback Rylee Brown and tight end Brad Cumbest, a Mississippi State commit, are dangerous in the passing game and there are more options to carry the ball. Also, the East Central defense has been stellar so far with just 29 points allowed this season.

Smith believes Tony Brown is an improved player as a senior.

“He’s a little bit faster and he gained about 17 pounds. He’s a little bit faster,” Smith said. “Those three aspects have made a huge difference. The numbers aren’t where they were because we’ve played two fewer games. Also, we’ve got Ryan Evans running the ball some and we’re throwing it to Cumbest.”

‘Fired up’

Brown moved to the small community of Hurley six years ago to live with his dad. Basketball was his sport of choice as he grew up in Manhattan, N.Y., but it didn’t take long for his dad to realize he should give football a try.

“When I was playing Pee Wee, I was faster than the other kids,” Tony Brown said.

Speed has never been a problem for Brown and he has thrived in Smith’s weightlifting program.

“He had over 30 touchdowns as a ninth grader,” Smith said. “He’s got natural vision, quickness and speed. All that is God given. We knew as a freshman he had a chance to be special. He’s gotten tougher and stronger.”

Brown had a memorable junior campaign, ranking fourth in the nation in rushing yardage, but his senior year has a chance to be even more special. East Central appears to be a team built for success in the postseason.

“This whole summer I could see how everybody progressed along with me,” Brown said. “I realized we have a very good opportunity to become state contenders this year. It’s been amazing.”

East Central, a school known more for baseball than football, has rallied around the team this season with fans showing up in strong numbers at home games.

“The town is fired up right now,” Brown said. “For us to keep doing what we’re doing and get a state championship, that would be awesome.”