After finishing the most successful season in school history, Brandon High football coach Brad Peterson doesn’t remember the wins as much as he does the journey.
As the team bus pulled out of the Brandon Baptist Church parking lot and made its way across town on Highway 80, Peterson and the Brandon players were awestruck at the scene. For as far as they could see, Brandon fans had lined both sides of the street to see the team off as it made its way to Jackson for the Class 6A state championship game against South Panola — the school’s first appearance in a state title game.
“Highway 80 was packed all the way down to the Crossgates exit,” Peterson said.
Once inside Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, Peterson and his players realized most — if not all — of those well wishers had made the trip themselves.
“I’ve been going to those games since ’95,” Peterson said, “and I’ve never seen a crowd like that.”
For guiding Brandon to a 12-3 record and its first title game appearance — the Bulldogs held a brief lead before falling 31-23 to South Panola — Peterson is the Coach of the Year on The Clarion-Ledger All-Metro team, chosen from schools in Hinds, Madison and Rankin counties.
It’s an award and a season Peterson said would not have been possible without the support of the Brandon community.
“The community was hungry for the football team to excel,” Peterson said.
That hunger helped lead to a new 6,000-square foot weight room for all Brandon athletic teams not long after Peterson, 38, was hired in spring of 2010. The building helped spark a culture change in the locker room.
“It’s about getting mentally stronger, challenging your guys and seeing your teammates working, seeing your teammates overcome obstacles,” Peterson said. “I think all that happens in the weight room. There’s so much bonding that can happen in there if it’s done the right way.”
Behind the hard running of Davien Tillis (1,281 yards, 18 touchdowns), a big season by sophomore quarterback Gardner Minshew (3,001 yards, 27 TDs) and a swarming defense led by linebacker Tayler Polk, the Metro Player of the Year, the Bulldogs captured the 6A South State title and raised the bar.
“He just brought so much energy to the team and to the community,” said Polk. “He’s a great P.R. guy. And on top of that, he knows his Xs and Os and you need that when you are in 6A.”
Peterson wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’ve been to the state championship game for the first time in school history, we don’t talk about that anymore,” Peterson said. “We talk about being the best team in the state of Mississippi. That’s what we talk about, we want to be known as the best.”