Interview: East St. John football coach Brandon Brown continues to build winners on field, in life at his alma mater
Alumnus Brandon Brown continues to build East St. John into winners on field, in life (Ken Trahan)
It was not that long ago that Brandon Brown was a fine player at East St. John and Alcorn State.
After his college playing days, Brown served as defensive coordinator at Columbus High (MS) before returning to Louisiana to coach at St. Helena.
Brown built a program from scratch at St. Helena, taking it from nearly rock bottom to near the very top of Louisiana football as the Hawks reached the Class 2A state final, falling 38-26 to Welsh.
Prior to Brown arriving at St. Helena, the Hawks has won just four games in its three previous seasons.
After going 3-8 in his first season at St. Helena in 2014, Brown guided the Hawks to an 8-3 mark in 2015. In 2016, the Hawks were 11-2 and reached the 2A semifinals.
In April of 2018, Brown returned home, hired as the head coach at East St. John.
In his first season, Brown’s Wildcats went 5-6, making the Class 5A playoffs, falling 17-13 to highly favored East Ascension in the opening round of the playoffs.
In 2019, East St. John improved to 9-3, upsetting ninth seed Central 34-30 in the opening round of the playoffs before falling 45-29 to Airline in the second round.
While there are a number of key players off of last year’s team having graduated, the cupboard is not bare. East St. John has With a pair of superb college prospects in linebacker Jackie Marshall and defensive end Welland Williams back to lead the way in 2020.
Brown spoke about his team and social justice issues on The Three Tailgaters Show on 106.1 FM Saturday morning.
“We had a really good group last year,” Brown said. “For year two, I was very pleased. We lost to a very, very well coached team in St. James. They are state champions for a reason. Early on, we lost to them and that night, I told my staff nobody was going to beat St. James. We lost to Hahnville in district, a very good opponent. I just didn’t think we played very well. We got things going and lost in the second round. We’ve just got to keep building brick by brick.
It’s year three so we have to add another brick. We lost a lot of skill from last year but we are very strong up front. We have a really talented group. We will be really good on the offensive and defensive lines where we have virtually everyone back. It you can run the ball and stop the run, you have a great chance to win.”
Brown is truly at home in Reserve.
“I always dreamed about coming back home and dreamed about building a dynasty program,” Brown said. “I always thought it had to start somewhere other than the field and this COVID gives us a place to start other than the field.”
Like every other football program in Louisiana, these have been unusual times with the inability to gather entire teams or even several team members together on campus for Brown and his Wildcat program.
“It has been strange,” Brown said. “We’ve been out since March with the COVID. When we were able to get a chance to get back on June 8 and we were all excited, here came the hurricane (Tropical Storm Cristobal). That pushed back to the 10th. From then on, we’ve had a great turnout. We’ve been coming in intervals, putting our guys in kind of pods. We’ve got 15 guys to kind of stay together. We know the max is 25. We just wanted to make sure that we were safe. Things have been working well. We’re developing leaders.”
The time apart is actually helping the Wildcats grow closer together through one-on-one meetings.
“It gave us a chance to really meet our guys, seeing them in a different light, more so than on the field,” Brown said. I think it’s going to help us in the long run with just that relationship. We can expect more and get more out of our guys now because they understand us better as coaches and we understand them better as kids. I think they understand now that it’s bigger than coaching now. They understand that we really care about them, we really care about their well being, we really care about their families.”
Growing up in south Louisiana, Brown was raised to love his neighbor in the Biblical sense and that went a long way in shaping him as an adult and how he views others.
“I’m very, very blessed and fortunate and I tell that to my guys all the time,” Brown said. “I had a unique situation. I was in a home with mom and dad and a lot of my teammates were not. My dad is the pastor of a church. My situation was a little different. We were raised to be family. My dad always taught me to help and to be a helping hand so that’s kind of the way I was raised. White, black blue, green, it didn’t matter.”
Brown cited a story that helped shape his mindset about those from other races.
“I went to my senior prom,” Brown said. “This place is still in Laplace, right on Belle Terre Avenue. It’s called Formal Connections. The owner is Caucasian. They are white people. What happened was there was a lady on the side of the road with a flat tire, her and her daughter. My dad pulled on the side of the road, offered to help her fix her flat. She offered to give him money. He said, ‘no ma’am, I don’t need your money.’ He said ‘I have a daughter and I have a wife and I would hope that someone would do the same for them.
He walked away. She went to her care and she came running back to him and said, ‘here you go, sir, here’s my card. My husband and I own Formal Connections. If you know anybody that needs any kind of tuxedo needs, just come to me. He said, ‘look, by the way, my son’s a senior going to his prom.’ She said, ‘just come to my shop. We went to the shop. Everything was laid out for me, free of charge and everything. It’s a good lesson that we didn’t see black or white. We never did and we don’t now.”
Brown feels there is a simple outlook to have when it comes to dealing with how to look at race.
“I think it’s what you make it,” Brown said. “You have good cops, bad cops. You have good white people, you have good black people. You have bad people. It’s just who you are. It’s how you make things. It’s a tough situation because I hate to see the state that our world is in right now. There’s no place for injustice. There’s no place for the racism. I just hate that and I hate that we’re dealing with this.”
The end result is to educate honestly but with integrity and in love.
“At some point, we need to become a family again, no matter what color you are,” Brown said. “I think, as a country, we can now get to those type of situations where we lend a helping hand. Sadly, that’s not the case right now. I’m one that just doesn’t see color. I see the kindness of people’s hearts. I see who people are and judge them for who they are. I hope to be treated the same way. That’s the message I try to teach to my children. I have two kids. I try to teach that to them on a daily basis. I teach that to every kid that comes in this building (at East St. John).”
Brown has an understanding of all backgrounds in his job.
:At a school like East St. John, I have white, I have black, I have Hispanic,” Brown said. “As their athletic director, I want them to know that I am the guy that you can lean on. I have your best interest at heart. I try to do a really good job. Color does not matter to me. I will do anything I can to help any person to be in a better situation. I will do anything possible to help them be successful. That’s just who I am and I would hope one day this world can get to that as well.”
The character of Brown is apparent in his personal life. It is imparted to his players and the results were obvious at St. Helena and are becoming obvious at his alma mater.
“I just want everyone to love each other and I just want everyone to get in a situation where we can all get along,” Brown said. “We can all learn from each other. That’s where we are heading with our program.”
The son of a pastor is doing an excellent job of pastoring his flock of Wildcats.
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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…