Starkville High School coach Chris Jones talks to senior wide receiver Cameron Hines (10) as Malik Brown (1) and Cameron Gardner (12) look on. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch Buy this photo.
August 17, 2017 10:45:03 AM
STARKVILLE -- It didn't take long for Malik Brown to enter Chris Jones' world.
When Jones became Starkville High School football coach job, it took him only a few hours to hear Brown's name.
Brown wasn't part of the program when Jones replaced Ricky Woods as coach. Now Brown is slated to start the team's season opener against Noxubee County at 7 p.m. Friday in Macon. These days, Brown's dismissal from the team is barely remembered.
"I think he's learned from it. I think he's more mature now," Jones said. "Skill-set wise, I think he has all the skills and the ability. He's a little undersized, but he has a grown-man arm. He's pretty much what I'm looking for in a quarterback."
Jones never received an official briefing about what happened with Brown. Everything he heard was from the "rumor mill." Almost everyone who talked to Jones about Brown brought a secondary message.
"Most people said, 'You need to get him back out here. If you get him out here, he can help your team,' " Jones said. "From the little bit of film I had to watch, he had a lot of potential, and for what I like to do offensively, he had everything I need to run the ball and throw the ball. Why not give a kid a second chance?"
Last season, Brown was 23-for-43 for 376 yards and five touchdowns (two interceptions). He gained an average of 8.7 yards per pass. He also had 71 carries for 138 yards and a touchdown. Despite the suspension, Brown ended the season as Starkville's fifth-leading rusher.
"I made a mistake, quit and left the team," Brown said.
Jones verified Brown wasn't involved in a crime or in an incident with a woman. After discovering that wasn't the case, Jones talked to Brown about getting a second chance.
"I want to say the first day I got the job is when I called him, wanted to let him know I'm here and he said, 'I want to play.' He got his schedule changed, came back out here and it's been great ever since," Jones said. "A lot of people said he has a bad attitude, but I haven't seen any of that."
Brown said he talked with Jones about being someone the coaches and the Yellow Jackets could count on. He reassured Jones he wouldn't make the same mistakes he made in 2016.
"I'm a better person than last year," Brown said.
Brown is convinced he's a better player, too. He acknowledges the lost playing time "hurt" him, but he said he has worked hard to be part of the team and a better teammate. By all accounts, he's succeeding, even under the new standard Jones set for him.
"I told him I expect him to be a leader and I expect him to lead by his actions, not by talking," Jones said.
In time, both are confident all Brown will have to worry about is his play on the field. Jones said he hasn't worried about that. Just as Brown did on film, he impressed Jones on the first day.
"He really has running back ability, but he can throw the ball 50 yards," said Jones, who knew that day Brown would be the team's quarterback.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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