Inside the Program: St. Helena College and Career Academy with Head Coach Brandon Brown
by Jace LeJeune
Two weeks ago, we went inside the program at Lutcher High School which is a football program that is used to winning district and state championships every single year. This week, we are covering a school that is started to get used to its winning ways for football and that is St. Helena College and Career Academy. For the readers that are not familiar with the school, it is located in a small town called Greensburg, Louisiana. The city is located between Amite and Kentwood. The school plays in 2A and is coming off arguably their greatest season in their football program’s history. Led by Head Coach Brandon Brown, the Hawks went 9-1 in the regular season with their only loss coming to a really good Kentwood team by one point. The team won the district championship and made it all the way to the semifinals. The St. Helena Hawks were one game away from reaching the Superdome for the second time ever. The team that stood in their way from accomplishing that goal was the Madison Prep Academy Chargers. The Chargers would later go on to defeat the St. Helena Hawks and their quest for a first state championship win. Even though the team’s breakout season ended one game short of their goal, there is plenty of optimism for next year and for good reason. Ever since Brown took over as the head coach of the Hawks, the program improves every single year. Before that, the program was having trouble winning football games. In Brown’s first year, the team won two games. In his second year, the team won three games. The next year, he led the team to a 7-5 season as well as a playoff win. That led to this year where he led the team to not only a district championship but a semifinal finish. The question now is if Brandon Brown can take that next step and lead the Hawks to the Promise Land. For Brown and the Hawks, they are looking to build “Brick by Brick.” We go inside the program with Coach Brown and the Hawks as he talks about this season, next season, high school football in Louisiana, recruiting, and so much more!
LAFM: How many years have you been involved with coaching in Louisiana?
This is my fourth season at St. Helena, and also year number four in Louisiana. I spent seven years in Mississippi before coming to Louisiana.
LAFM: What made you get involved with the sport of football?
Being a former athlete, I always looked up to and respected my coaches. I saw the positive impact my coaches had on my life and all my teammates and I then told myself I would coach so that I could one day be that person who would positively impact lives daily.
LAFM: Who was the coach that motivated you to become a coach?
When I was younger, my dad was my little league coach. He is also a great man of God, father, and pastor so he really had and still has a great influence on me. Also my college football coach, Dr. Johnny Thomas was a huge influence on me. Lastly, Coach Darryl Jones, who is now the Head Football Coach/AD of Canton HS in Mississippi, was also an influential coach to me. Coach Jones hired me in Columbus, MS, and allowed me to grow as a person and coach under him. Coach Jones is probably the most detail-oriented person you will meet. More than anything, he is a great person ,and I mimic a lot of the things he does with his teams on and off the field.
LAFM: Who were some of the best players that you ever coached?
One of the best players I’ve coached would be Byerson Cockrell, who was a Jr. College All-American at East Mississippi Community College, and went on to have a great career at the University of Nebraska. I coached him at Columbus High School in MS. Another one of the best players I’ve coached was Tobias Smith, who played college football at Mississippi State. I also coached Tobias at Columbus while I served as the Defensive Coordinator there. The last guy that comes to mind would be LaTrone Williams. LaTrone is currently a defensive back at Southeastern in Hammond. All of these guys have those intangible things that make them great players. Each of them can dominate on the field.
LAFM: How long have you been the coach for St. Helena High School?
I just completed my fourth season as the Athletic Director/Head Football Coach at St. Helena.
LAFM: For the readers that are not familiar with St. Helena High School, where is it located exactly?
St. Helena College and Career Academy is located in Greensburg, Louisiana. We are about 25 Miles North of Hammond and sit in between Amite and Kentwood, Louisiana.
LAFM: How many state championships and district championships has the program won?
The program has struggled in the past and has never won any championships. However, this past season we were fortunate to finish 12-2, win district, and we lost in the semi-final game.
LAFM: Who are some of the great players to come through the school?
In the short period of time, I’ve heard of several great players to play at St. Helena, however, two of the most recent guys were Chris Davis and Stanley Doughty.
LAFM: You inherited a program that was not winning a lot of games and in a couple of seasons, you have turned it around. What was the secret behind turning the program around?
Honestly, there is no secret formula, I came in with a clear and plain vision, implemented that vision and the key was sticking to it. I wanted to build a solid athletic program and I wanted to do it Brick by Brick. I believe in having some strong core values such as: discipline, a strong work ethic, creating a positive culture, and graduation equals winning. I knew things wouldn’t happen over night. However, I constantly preached changed and I preached doing it Brick by Brick. Eventually, the words, Brick by Brick, became our culture. The players, parents, and everyone in the community started to see and believe that we were building something great and doing it Brick by Brick. That became more than words, it became a part of what we do. Academics, attitudes, behaviors, and on-field performances all started to change and improve. We would just say we were stacking Bricks.
LAFM: Last season was definitely a breakout season as St.Helena as the team went 12-2, won the district championship, and made it all the way to the semifinals. When did you realize that this year would be a special season?
I knew we would have a chance to be great back in the spring, so I challenged every player and coach to go that extra mile to help get us over the hump. The response was great. Everyone knew their role and every individual worked to get better as an individual which made the team better once the season came around. This past spring and summer was great and once I saw the amount of work we were putting in, I figured it would pay off. I always reference the way we work to a bank account. I tell my players and coaches that if they want to get something out of the bank, they have to work hard to put something in the bank. I tell them it’s hard to receive money from an account that you hadn’t first worked to make sure something is in the account.
LAFM: What did this season mean for the program in order to get the team on a championship level?
I believe this season set the bar for our program. Since I’ve been here we have been making steady strides and once we reach a point, I demanded that we only improve from where we are. So having reached the Semi-finals this season, the expectations now is to make it to the championship.
LAFM: What do you need to do in order to keep this going on a consistent level?
At this point, we need to continue to work hard. Now is not the time to get relaxed or feel like we have arrived. Now is the time to work harder than we have ever worked. The goal is to consistently improve, first as students and then as athletes. I believe if we can continue to graduate guys in our program, we will continue to win on the field. Winning in the Classroom = Winning on the Field.
LAFM: Who are some of the big time players that are leaving the program after this season and how important was their leadership for this year’s team?
Honestly, all of our senior players are big time players to me. This group was a special group to me. We started together, and those young men went from not winning many games to being district champions and making it to the Semi-Finals. Their leadership was the reason we were able to be successful this season and the foundation they have laid will be the reason we continue to have success.
LAFM: For next year, who are some key guys that we should expect to make a big impact for next season?
Some guys to pay attention to are: Aaron Hurst, Troy Hurst, Devin Taylor, Demetrius Brown, Ricky Travis, O’Cyrus Torrence, Brant Muse, Myron Smith, Matthew Claiborne, and Alex Self to name a few. However, we have several other guys that I can see having great seasons.
LAFM: Who are some of your assistant coaches that you would like to mention?
Honestly, all of my coaches are worth mentioning. So the guys that help make this program special are: Benjamin Morgan, Dorian Nelson, James Atkins, Jeff Sawyer, Major Coleman, and Lionell Topps.
LAFM: What is the best part about coaching at St. Helena?
The best part of coaching in St. Helena or any place ,for that matter, is making a positive impact on young men’s lives. What makes St. Helena a great place is the people and the student-athletes we have here. The administration, community, fans, parents, and all involved are great people. The support has been amazing, and everyone here wants to be successful.
LAFM: How different is the recruiting process back when you started coaching and now? Well, the fact that we have started winning, we have seen a great number of college recruiters show up lately showing interest in our student-athletes. When I started here, there were very few if any coaches coming around. Now, we have coaches from SEC schools to Division III Schools coming in recruiting our guys.
LAFM: What is the advice that you want to give to players that have to deal with recruiting?
I stress to my guys to take control of their recruitment. I express to them that they can gain control of their recruitment by first being the best student they can be in the classroom, and then being stellar on the football field. I tell my players they may have the ability to be the best player around, but the best way to market themselves is to have the academics to go alone with their athletic abilities. I also stress to my guys that they must be realistic. I explain to them that everyone will not play college ball, and also everyone may not be an SEC player. However, there are colleges all over the country that may be a great school where they can continue their athletic careers, and most importantly, continue their education and receive a degree. I stress to them that the most important thing about going to college is to leave college with a degree.
LAFM: What are your opinions on the state championship games and do you think that they should go back to the old format?
Either way is fine with me. At the end of the day, you have to line up and play the game.
LAFM: For the St. Helena fans, students, and players, what is your message to them about next season?
We expect next season to be special. We need the support of everyone to help our student-athletes be successful and continue to raise the bar for not only our athletic program, but for our school and entire community. Our motto has been “Brick By Brick,” but as a team we realize we must continue to build. We also know we can’t do it alone, so we need the help of everyone to help up build the program “Brick By Brick!”