In the spirit of the 2019 NFL season and varsity all-star selection announcements, I begin this story by reflecting on the Mississippi-Alabama All Star Game, Dec. 12, 2015. Played on the campus of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, it was the first time this annual competition was held in the Magnolia State since its inception almost 30 years prior. While there, I witnessed what was one of the best offensive performances in football I had ever seen on any level. Granted, the field was teeming with the most elite athletic talent that Mississippi and Alabama high schools had to offer, but what I saw was stars being born.
In the opening drive of that game, one half of a pair of highly touted NFL wide receiver prospects from Mississippi, now NFL players, D.K. Metcalf caught a pass from his QB, Keon Howard, for 32 yards and scored a TD later in that first quarter off of a catch and run for 69 yards. In the second quarter, the other half of that pair, A.J. Brown, coming into the game a winner after securing the 6A state championship victory, caught a 35 yard TD pass from Howard to tie the game. One might ask what does that have to do with them now? Almost four years later? Well, let me finally say about their performance that afternoon was that they added one touchdown each (huge plays) to lead their team to victory. And to my surprise, A.J. and D.K. received co-MVP awards for their performance which was more than well-deserved. Fast forward almost four years later, both A.J. and D.K. are top receiving targets for the Tennessee Titans and Seattle Seahawks, respectively.
My amazement and awe of what these two would possibly accomplish singularly as well as collectively began that day. At that time, A.J. had not yet committed to the University of Mississippi so being a Mississippi Alum, one could imagine the sheer delight I felt once he officially decided to make it his new football home.
“Witnessing A.J. coupled with D.K. was going to be sweeter than Cold Stone Ice Cream,” I thought. And indeed it was.
Both of these players had to overcome what I’m sure was dreaded adversity throughout the course of their college career. For A.J., his decision to commit to Ole Miss instead of his hometown of the Mississippi State Bulldogs was a decision that would change his home life forever, but not one that he would regret — for he carries a spirit of resilience and solidarity that is unmatched. D.K.’s adversity was more than likely both mentally and physically challenging to overcome. In 2016, he broke his foot in the second game of the season. In 2018, he suffered a season-ending neck injury. The amount of mental toughness it must have taken to overcome such grueling injuries is something I cannot even begin to fathom, let alone the physical toughness.
The shared adversity by these two players was the consequences of the football program’s NCAA violations. Realizing that the program had lost a head coach, bowl eligibility, and essential players (brothers) could not have been an easy pill to swallow. Nevertheless, they soldiered on with their brothers and left it all out on the field, while some would have advised them to move on to “greener pastures” and not remain on what seemed like a sinking ship. These guys, however, did not jump ship and up to this point they have performed with that same competitive nature as they did at Southern Miss on Dec. 12, 2015. They are winners by nature and have the attitudes to complement that.
Even more admirable than their winning attitudes is their chemistry on and off the field and the way it has unfolded over the years. They are playmakers in their own right and both have an “X-factor” element about them. One might suggest that what makes D.K. such a force to be reckoned with is his size and speed. With A.J., it’s his explosiveness and elusiveness and the ability to frustrate the heck out of secondaries. Watching these two excel and compete at this level has been exhilarating. From spring training at Ole Miss in preparation for their college seasons to training together in Arizona for the 2019 NFL Draft, A.J. and D.K. have a seemingly divine connection that yields the strength to overcome adversity and come out even stronger as a result. They are diligence and commitment personified. Their success is a prime example that what is for you, is for you. No, they did not have an opportunity to showcase their talent and competitiveness in their college post seasons in a bowl or championship game. They did, however, demonstrate how faith, commitment, and a strong support system can take you to heights unimaginable.
Needless to say, I am looking forward to what the future holds for these young men in the NFL and beyond. Witnessing their journeys from senior year in high school up to this point is one of several inspiring instances in sports that drove my desire to write about such. The example that A.J. and D.K. have set means a great deal not just to me, but to Mississippi athletes and other young men, to see what greatness can come from being disciplined, diligent, and devoted.
Happy 100th NFL Season and here’s to the next 100!
Jasmine Steverson is a reporter for the Delta-Democrat Times. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.