Nestled five miles east of Starkville, Mississippi is a small rural community called Mhoon Farm. Yes, the “h” is intentional. It’s not on any map, no one knows the true history of the name – several people have said it’s named after a dairy farm that no longer exists – and at its center is another small community called 16th section, where community life revolves around the 16th Section Missionary Baptist Church.
Interestingly, Mhoon Farm is also the hometown of two players who will face each other in Super Bowl LVII: Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver AJ Brown and Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay.
The two, who won a state title together in Starkville High School in 2015, lived about five minutes apart and went to religious gatherings together. Brown’s family lived north of the church on 16th Section Road, while Gay’s family lived south of the church along the same road. Brown’s father is a deacon, his mother is the Sunday school teacher, and Gay’s great-great-grandfather was the pastor.
The players diverged in college but remained in-state as Brown headed to Ole Miss while Gay played in neighboring Mississippi.
Now, they will face each other in the Super Bowl on Sunday. Brown, who the Eagles acquired last offseason from the Tennessee Titans, leads the team with 1,496 receiving yards and 11 receiving touchdowns. Gay, a third-year second-round draft pick, is third on the Chiefs with 88 combined tackles and has started all 13 games he has appeared in this season.
“It means a lot to both of us to play in this game,” Brown told Yahoo Sports this week. “It means everything where we come from – in Starkville. Guys not too far from each other playing in one of the biggest games. Hope this gives the kids back home hope that you can do what you want to do.
“Watching AJ a year before me, that really motivated me,” Gay told Yahoo Sports this week. to see him. We both know that we leave a positive image for these children.
Brown and Gay aren’t the only former high school teammates facing off this Super Bowl. There are three other pairs: Eagles outside linebacker Robert Quinn and Chiefs defensive end Carlos Dunlap played together at Fort Dorchester High School in North Charleston, South Carolina; Eagles linebacker Kyron Johnson and Chiefs quarterback Shane Buechele went to Lamar High School together in Arlington, Texas; and Eagles practice squad offensive lineman Sua Opeta and Chiefs cornerback Zayne Anderson attended Stansbury High School together in Stansbury Park, Utah.
Brown and Gay will be the only pair likely to literally line up against each other in any given snap.
“From when they were in school age — I say first or second grade — until high school, their lives were connected,” Aundrea Self, TV reporter for WCBI in Starkville, told Yahoo Sports. . “Who knew these little boys would end up winning a state championship together, but then go to rival schools and are now Super Bowl opponents? It’s just amazing.
They played peewee football together as children at the now-closed Alexander Elementary School near their two homes and became two of the leaders of their championship-winning team – Brown as a regular triple-wide senior and Gay as a junior linebacker who “could play any position on the field if you wanted to,” according to then-head coach Ricky Woods.
“They were both terrific athletes,” Woods told Yahoo Sports. “But what made them better than anything was the kind of people they were.”
The two always came to practice with smiles on their faces, Woods recalled, and led by example rather than words. Before each practice, receivers walked 20 routes and had to do 30 pushups for every uncontested pass they dropped. Woods says Brown never gave up on any of those passes in his senior year. And during games, Brown dominated. In a game against Callaway in 2015, Brown caught a wild pass in double coverage and finished with five receptions for 118 yards and two touchdowns.
As for Gay, he captained a Starkville defense that held opponents to 11 points per game during his championship season and finished with 84 tackles, 17 for loss and six sacks. He moved from linebacker to quarterback for part of his senior year after the championship year when Starkville’s offense needed a jolt and finished a crucial game with five rushing touchdowns and 325 rushing yards. – although he did not attempt a pass.
“They’re just great blue-collar kids,” former high school head coach Jamie Mitchell, who coached the two before Woods, told Yahoo Sports. “I think it helped them a lot with their work ethic. Both of them received nothing at first.
Both worked constantly to improve in high school. Neither were “in the crowd” and hung out with separate smaller groups or focused solely on sports. Brown actually skipped his first season to focus on baseball before returning his second year after being convinced by teammate Ralph Leonard. Gay, meanwhile, “completely built his body” between his first two years before becoming a defensive star.
“The guys were driven and determined,” assistant coach Willie Gillespie told Yahoo Sports. “They were determined to be big, you can see that in them. You can see how they behaved.
As for Mhoon Farm and Starkville, they only support their hometown heroes.
“These guys were really special guys. They are always special guys,” Gillespie said. “The world is getting to see what we saw in high school. And it will be no different on Sunday. AJ is going to be read to play. Willie will be ready to play. And we here in Starkville are sort of shooting for both of them.
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