September 1, 2015 10:08:57 AM
STARKVILLE -- Opposing teams know they have to stop senior wide receiver A.J. Brown if they want to shut down the Starkville High School football team.
But that hasn't happened in the first two weeks of the season, as Brown has made 30 catches for 339 yards and one touchdown.
"Our expectations are high for him," Yellow Jacket wide receivers coach Willie Gillespie said. "He's one of the better guys in the country, so everything he does doesn't surprise us. We're always trying to raise the bar for him, and he always meets that challenge."
Brown is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week after making a career-high 16 catches for 192 yards in a 20-7 win against Oxford on Friday in the "Little Egg Bowl," which was broadcasted live by ESPNU. The "Little Egg Bowl" trophy is named after the rivalry between Mississippi State and Ole Miss, who compete annually in "The Battle for the Golden Egg."
Brown admits he was nervous when he realized he was going to be "the guy" in the offense this season, but he hasn't shown it in the first two weeks.
"There's no limit to my game," Brown said. "Regardless of how many people are over there, I'm still going to try to do my best and just come through for my team."
Regardless of the attention Brown receives from defenses, senior quarterback Montario Montgomery said he looks for Brown on almost every passing play.
"He is a dominating player on the field, and he's a dominating player off the field, too," Montgomery said. "Anything you throw to him, he adapts to it so fast and so quick. His mind is so strong. He learns how to beat you before you even try to bracket him."
Entering the game against Oxford, 247Sports had Brown ranked as the second-best wide receiver in the state behind Oxford's D.K. Metcalf, but that changed Monday, as the recruiting website moved him to No. 1.
Brown has 11 Division I scholarship offers, including ones from Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Alabama.
Brown didn't find the end zone against the Chargers, but he didn't need to score to affect the game. He caught a 57-yard pass from Montgomery in the fourth quarter that set up a third touchdown that helped the Yellow Jackets increase the lead to 13.
"That's part of having A.J. Brown as your teammate," Montgomery said. "You know he's going to make a play. All you have to do is get it around him and he's going to go get the ball. Every time I throw he ball, I have no doubt he's going to go get it."
Last season, Starkville had two receivers eclipse the 1,000-yard mark, as Brown had 60 catches for 1,125 yards and 17 touchdowns, while Raphael Leonard caught 67 passes for 1,266 yards and 15 touchdowns.
"Last year, I was just trying to do what Raph and the other guys did," Brown said. "Raph was better than me. that's how I looked at it. He'll make a play, and I know I have to make a play."
Leonard, who is a freshman at Florida Atlantic, took pressure off Brown last season, but the Yellow Jackets don't have a wide receiver with Leonard's ability to complement Brown this season. Along with being "the guy," Brown is finding himself in several new roles.
"A leadership role is something new for him," Gillespie said. "He's taking on that leadership role knowing that expectations for him to make plays are out there. He's done a great job with it."
Starkville will continue to call Brown's number as the season progresses, but wideouts Milton Smith Jr. and Rontavis Clark also have been factors in the passing game in the first two games.
"This year, everybody probably thinks it's me, but you have other weapons," Brown said. "As soon as you put all your focus on me, another guy's going to step up."
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.
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