After Two Class 5A State Championships in Four Years, the Zachary Broncos Have Built Themselves into a Perennial Power
by Jace LeJeune
Current Dunham High School Head Coach Neil Weiner deserves a lot of credit for setting the building blocks in order for the Zachary High School Broncos to have success. After five years at the helm, Weiner’s record was a total of 34 wins and 23 losses. Then, the Zachary administration made the perfect hire to keep building on the program’s success in David Brewerton, who himself helped establish the Livonia High School Wildcats as a state powerhouse with a semi-final run and a state championship appearance in his tenure. All Brewerton has done at Zachary is win with an impressive 50-9 record and two state championships to boot one in 2015 and another last season in 2017. In fact, the Broncos have made at least the Class 5A semi-finals every year under Brewerton’s tenure. There have been two reasons for the Broncos’ success. The first reason is the excellent coaching and the second reason is the number of outstanding talented players that the Broncos have had in their program. The same is expected for this season as there are many upcoming seniors that have a chance to make a lot of noise this season.
Offensively, all eyes are on junior QB Keilon Brown, who has already proved to be a program great even though he still has two more years of eligibility left. Even though Brown has had a lot of success, it does help to have explosive playmakers on the outside to throw the football to. Senior wideouts Jadarion “Buddy” Davis, Khris Simmons, and Chandler Whitfield have always been reliable targets for the young talented quarterback. Louisiana Football Magazine’s recruiting guru Lee Brecheen believes that the speed from these three players makes them potential playmakers with the ball in their hands.
“Jadarion Davis looks the part with good speed and already has offers at the I-AA level already,” Brecheen said. “Khris Simmons ran a 4.45/40 over the summer and can run with good size at 6-1, 185 pounds.”
Ja’Darion Davis is an unique player with his 6-2, 200 pound size. For the Broncos, he has played both wide receiver and tight end. So far, his versatility has attracted schools such as Louisiana College, which he has received an offer from as well as McNeese State and Northwestern State. For Davis, it is another sport that helps him excel on the gridiron.
“My biggest strength is my size and my blocking ability,” Davis said. “A player that I model myself after is Jimmy Graham (Miami/New Orleans Saints/Seattle Seahawks/Green Bay Packers). Like Graham, I am a big man with good hands and I also play basketball to help me improve on my jump ball ability.”
Fellow defensive teammate in senior linebacker Taylor Milton has a lot of respect for what the trio can do.
“Chandler, Khris, and Jadarion are guys that are underrated, but will make you pay if you forget about them,” Milton said.
As for Whitfield, he currently plays wide receiver for the Broncos, but Brecheen sees him more on the defensive side of the football.
“Chandler Whitfield is more of a D-II or D-III athlete that I can see as a defensive back,” Brecheen said. “He has good speed and ran a punt return 81 yards for a touchdown this season already.”
In speaking of defense, not only do the Broncos have an explosive offensive attack, but also an aggressive and discipline defense that also has another star underclassmen leading the way in Maverick McClure, who is the son of former LSU and Atlanta Falcon center Todd McClure. However, like fellow junior star Brown, McClure has plenty of help including his star counterpart Wes Brady, who just recently was on the cover of our South Louisiana Magazine Preview edition and made our 2nd Team All-South Louisiana team.
“Wes Brady is a leader for the defense,” Brecheen said. “He is a player with deceptive speed for a middle linebacker in college. He could play for the right DI program and already has DI offers from Army and Southern Miss.”
Brady is also a tackling machine as he held an incredible 130 tackles, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and 28 tackles for loss. The 2017 District MVP may be the star on the defensive side of the football, but there are seniors that get the job done at each level of the field and it all starts with the senior defensive lineman Caleb Jackson.
“If Caleb Jackson was a little taller, he would be a SEC caliber player,” Brecheen said. “Jackson has started most of his career with the Broncos and can move really well for a 6-0, 250 pound defensive lineman. Jackson will sign with at least a I-AA school and could still get a DI offer.”
Caleb Jackson has been a 1st Team All-District player with 79 tackles, 38 assist tackles, 14 sacks, 32 tackles for loss, 16 quarterback hurries, and seven forced fumbles. Jackson’s dominant season has attracted schools such as McNeese State and Southern University, which have both offered him. However, even that is not enough for Jackson.
“This season, I feel like I need to improve on getting off of the double team block and be a more effective pass rusher,” Jackson said.
Like Brecheen said earlier, Jackson may not be the tallest player on the front, but for him, size does not matter.
“Look at Aaron Donald(Pittsburgh/Los Angeles Rams),” Jackson said. “He is the same height as me, and it shows me that I can be effective even if I am undersized.”
Being undersized gives Jackson a chip on his shoulder and with that chip, he has been able to show that he can dominate a game. The third starting linebacker may not get the recognition like Brady or McClure, but he is in his own right a great player and that is Taylor Milton.
“Taylor Milton plays linebacker for the team, but started his career as a safety and grew over time,” Brecheen said. “He can run and hit. The sky is the limit for him and he will only get bigger.”
Milton, McClure, and Brady make one of the best linebacking trios in the entire state. For Milton, playing football has been in his blood.
“My father played football for ULM and my brother is currently playing football for TCU,” Milton said.
The football instincts and 6-2, 215 frame has made it natural for Milton to shed off blocks in the running game as well at the same time, being able to cover receivers. Last season, he had 96 tackles, 12 pass breakups, and three sacks. Like his family members, Milton will like to continue playing football at the college level. As of right now, his top two schools are New Mexico State and Southern Miss.
In the secondary, the group is led by Tyler Judson and Caleb Knighten, who are the veterans of the back half of the defense.
“Tyler Judson is a talented defensive back that started much of his high school varsity career,” Brecheen said. “Judson has good size and will be a safety in college. He reads well as he had six interceptions last year and will be a great safety in college. Caleb Knighten is a sleeper in college. In week one this year, he had an 82 yard interception for a touchdown.”
Like Milton, Knighten also has some family members that have played at the college level.
“My brother played corner at the high school level years back and my nephew plays currently at Blinn College in Texas,” Knighten said.
So far, Knighten has not had the luxury of college offers as the rest of his teammates, but he wants to prove this year to college coaches that he too can play at the next level.
“I am a good hard working player that is all about trusting the process of getting to that high level of play,” Knighten said.
The process is a message that is often delivered by Coach Brewerton and even though the team is coming off a Class 5A state championship, there is no room for slowing down knowing that the target is on their back.
“We knew we were going to have a target on our backs and Coach Brewerton always preached to us that we have to get better everyday,” Milton said. “The targets only get bigger and bigger.”
The Broncos opened their Class 5A state title defense against Northshore High School. The Broncos were a little sloppy early, but showed why they were the defending state champions pulling away in the second half with a 28-7 victory. Even though the team starts off with a positive 1-0 start, the team, as a whole, realizes that there was a whole lot left to be desired, but there were positive things that the team could build on.
“The Northshore game showed us that we have to overcome adversity in every game we play no matter the opponent,” Jackson said.
The Broncos have a marquee matchup in Week 2 against the Catholic High School (B.R.) Bears, which has also won a state championship last season. In fact, every time the Bears have won a state championship, the Broncos have won as well. The Broncos will be looking for their first win since 2015 against the Bears and it will be a chance to prove that they are Class 5A title contenders once again against one of the area’s best teams.
“This game against Catholic is very critical,” Davis said. “We have a chip on our shoulders because of the past two years, but I believe we will execute and come out with a win. This will be a big statement in Class 5A for Zachary.”
In a schedule that features state championship contenders such as Catholic High, Live Oak High School, University Lab, and Scotlandville High School just to name a few. The road will not be easy for the Broncos, but it is nothing that this team cannot handle as proven in the past.
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