As someone who grew up in Miami’s Liberty City area dealing with heartache his entire life, Miami Jackson football coach Antonio “De La” Brown knows it’s never smart to turn off his cellphone.
Tragedy and sadness can strike at any hour.
“One time this season I called Coach Brown like at 3 a.m. because I was feeling bad, and I missed my mom,” said Jackson junior quarterback Quinton Flowers, whose mother died within the past year. “I talked to him for like two hours. The next day I came back to practice and I was ready to work.”
Brown, 34, is in his first season as coach of the Generals.
But when it comes to real-life experiences, he’s a veteran.
“I have been through a lot, so I have a lot of motivational things I can tell these kids to help them through life and realize it’s a football game,” Brown said. “When I was 14 years old my brother was shot and killed over a pair of shoes. My sister was killed for some jewelry. My father was killed in a home invasion. And I lost another sister four years ago. There’s nothing these kids can encounter that I didn’t go through myself.”
Brown feels like those experiences have helped him build a special bond with many of his players and is the main reason why Jackson has recently turned its season around.
The Generals (7-4), who ended the regular season with three consecutive defeats, have pulled off two upsets in the postseason over a Plantation American Heritage team that was 9-1 and one of the favorites to win Class 5A and over defending Class 5A state champion Norland.
Next for Jackson is a trip to Belle Glade and a game against one of the state’s longtime powerhouses in Glades Central in the Region 4-5A final Friday night at 7:30 p.m.
If the Generals win, they would clinch their first berth in the state semifinals since 2000.
“It was just about the kids believing in themselves,” Brown said. “Our motto we spot the ball and anything can happen. It’s the playoffs now and we have a second chance. We’re 2-0 and a lot of other people are sitting at home.”
Spotting problems at the end of Jackson’s season was easy.
Jackson’s offense scored only nine of the team’s 16 combined points in losses to Booker T. Washington, Norland and Northwestern to finish the regular season.
The difference according to Brown was Jackson’s offensive line. A lack of pass protection forced Flowers consistently out of the pocket and led to five interceptions in those games and only a 23.1 completion percentage.
Since then, Brown said the starting five of senior left tackle Darius Lee (6-2, 235), senior left guard Shandler Beaubein (6-1, 275), senior right tackle Robbie Frazier (5-11, 300), junior center Joseph Mackey (6-0, 245) and junior right guard Vanzell Dupont (6-1, 250) along with senior backup Levan Harper have improved tremendously.
In the playoffs, Jackson has scored 69 points and Flowers has returned to his usual self, throwing five touchdown passes and 350 yards and rushing for three others.
But Brown’s real specialty is helping his players deal with and identify problems off the field.
Brown coached notable Miami-Dade County stars such as former Norland running back Duke Johnson, Flowers and 14 other players on Jackson’s roster in their Optimist days in Liberty City.
A prime example of a player Brown has helped through tough times is senior free safety/wide receiver Christopher Williams-Hall, who made a major contribution in the team’s win over Norland last week with 10 catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns.
Williams-Hall lost his aunt during the season and wears an ankle bracelet due to a battery charge from an incident he was involved in back in middle school. Williams-Hall is required to be home every day by 8 p.m. and needs permission to travel with the team on road games like this week’s game in Belle Glade.
Brown has been there for Williams-Hall, who has bounced from home to home living with his mother and father, who are separated.
But through it all, Williams-Hall has persevered. His GPA is 2.6, he will take his SAT on Saturday, and he has scholarship offers from colleges like Kentucky, Ohio and Bethune-Cookman.
“I have a great father who takes care of me, but me and Coach have a good connection,” Williams-Hall said. “He’s like a father figure, an uncle, a mentor, or whatever you need him to be.”
No matter how far Jackson gets this season, Brown sees plenty of potential in his players as several will be back next season. Flowers, the team’s most highly recruited player knows for certain that Brown’s willingness to help him and his teammates players won’t waver.
“People always come to me saying I should transfer to another school,” Flowers said. “They don’t realize what I’ve been through at home. [Brown] does because he’s been in my life. I have my uncle and other family in my life, but you hardly see a coach be a part of your life like that.”
Added Brown: “It’s not all about football for me. I grew up in the inner city and I know what the streets can do to a kid that’s lost. It’s about being there year-round and 12 to 14 hours a day because those kids need you.”