Brown adapts to role with Yellow Jackets

Malik Brown

Staff Writer

Change has been something that Malik Brown has had to deal with from a very early stage in his career and change continues as he’s finishing out life as Starkville Yellow Jacket.

Brown ruled the Starkville pee-wee and junior varsity scene as a quarterback growing up and he and his classmates were virtually unbeatable before they got to high school. He was poised to be the next great signal caller and set to do it for a long time before adversity hit.

For the first time, Brown was dealing with struggles on the field. The 2016 Jackets lost a game or two early during his sophomore year and his personal performance had hit a brick wall. He played in the first five games of the season with 376 passing yards, 71 rushing yards and six total touchdowns but had a couple of interceptions.

Former head coach Ricky Woods took Brown out of the game at one point and inserted the backup quarterback, who was Ben Owens at the time. Shortly after, Brown left the team. Though he attempted to come back, he was forced to miss the rest of his sophomore year.

Enter coach Chris Jones, who saw a more determined Brown come in right away last year. Brown was one of the first people to the field house every day and became one of the leaders of the offense. Leaving football for half of a year and experiencing hurt and loss was something that helped make him a better player and person.

“That helped mold him into a calmer, more mild-mannered kid than he might have been in the past,” Jones said. “I don’t get the attitude from him and maybe that comes from him humbling himself from sitting out half of the season. He was the man all of his life from pee-wee up so it was hard for him to handle failure. I think he learned from it and learned that he needed football more than football needed him.”

After watching his team miss the playoffs in a rare instance, Brown came back as quarterback last season and helped lead them to the Class 6A State championship game. He threw for 1,928 yards and 24 touchdowns and rushed for four more scores and 540 yards.

Though Brown had success, Jones couldn’t shake the fact that they could better utilize him in the offense. Allowing sophomore Luke Altmyer the reins of the offense would help SHS become a better passing team, but finding a spot on the field for Brown was necessary because of his ability, so Jones suggested wide receiver to Brown.

Not only was he looking out for what was best for the team, he was also looking for what was best for Brown who could earn offers as a wide receiver.

“It’s going to help make me a better player and let other coaches see me with the ball in my hands," Brown said. "It can show that I’m an athlete and that I can play anywhere on the field. When I get the ball at quarterback some, now it feels like the old me, so it’s the best of both worlds.”

It wasn’t that hard of a sell for Jones. He said that Brown was receptive to it. Most of that was due to the fact that Jones had been in the same situation as a player.

After leading the offense at Noxubee County for years, Jones had a young up-and-comer by the name of Omarr Conner, who was making waves as a freshman back in the early 2000’s. Jones noticed right away that M.C. Miller had a dilemma on his hands, so he approached Miller himself with an idea.

“Honestly, I’ve been trying to be like Jerry Rice all of my life so if y’all have another quarterback, I’ll play receiver,” Jones had told Miller.

Jones relayed that story to Brown and let him know what doors it opened for him as a player. Jones became an All-State athlete at wide receiver and ultimately played defensive back on the next level. He got a scholarship at Jackson State and an opportunity in the NFL.

While he knew it was going to be tough for Brown to give up his dream of playing quarterback, he knew there was more potential there to tap.

“He was kind of torn, but I think it helped his decision once colleges started talking to him about playing at the next level," Jones said. "They want to see him play receiver, so he had to learn to play another position,” Jones said. “I didn’t feel like it would be fair to him to not have film to get a scholarship. We gave him the option.”

Since that move, Brown has picked up offers from Jackson State, Mississippi Valley State, Hinds Community College and Gulf Coast Community College. The talented athlete hasn’t had any breakout games yet at receiver, but he does have eight catches for 104 yards and continues to get some reps at quarterback in certain packages.

The most important part of his game has been his leadership. He sparked the Jackets out of the locker room with three big catches against West Point that ultimately helped charge them to a win. Jones said that the best is still ahead of him.

“Even though he doesn’t have the stats, there are so many weapons out there now because of him, it’s hard to key in on one guy,” Jones said. “He’s still learning the position, too. He’ll get better as the season goes. I see him every day getting more natural in practice.”