By CHRIS McMANES — The DeMatha Catholic High School football program often holds “real life Sundays” during the season. This is where Coach Elijah Brooks brings in people to speak to his players about life outside football.
Real life Sunday entered a new dimension this week when staff and players gathered for the first time since the tragic death of former Stags linebacker Marquis Jaylen Brown. Better known as Jaylen or JB, Brown lost his life last week in Pittsburgh.
“I think everyone is still in a state of shock,” Brooks said. “There’s no manual for it, and you’re not really prepared for a tragedy like this. So, as a staff, we’re working to handle it the best way we can. The school has been great in offering outlets for mourning and grieving for people in the DeMatha community.
“We’re just trying to come together as a school and a community to get through this.”
It is against this backdrop that the No. 7 Stags (4-1) will take on No. 5 Gonzaga (6-1) at Wilson Stadium in Landover at 7 p.m. The Eagles are coming off a 38-31 loss to Good Counsel in their Washington Catholic Athletic Conference opener. DeMatha will be playing its first WCAC game after a bye week.
Brooks broke down in tears when discussing Brown, a young man he grew quite fond of during his four years at DeMatha (2012-16).
“He had a magnetic personality,” Brooks said. “He just drew people to him. He always had a smile on his face. Just a very pleasant demeanor, a great sense of humor. Everybody loved him.”
Brown will be honored tonight with a moment of silence, and the Stags’ football helmets with feature “JB” stickers. Junior Melteon Davis will wear Brown’s No. 40 jersey and will accompany the captains to midfield for the pregame meeting with officials. Davis’ older brother, Terrance, was one of Brown’s teammates and good friends.
Brown had just turned 21 on Oct. 3, the day before his death. Of the 12 seniors on DeMatha’s current team, eight of them knew Brown well.
Brown, who lived in Washington, D.C., played football for four years for the Stags, the last three on varsity. He was a starting linebacker as a junior and senior. He played on three (2013-15) WCAC championship teams.
Brooks said when game day arrived, Brown was “serious” and ready to compete.
“He was a really good player, a throwback inside linebacker,” he said. “He was stout, downhill, physical. He was right there at 5-11, 6-foot but had an aggressiveness. He was very consistent and steady throughout his time here and had a really solid career.”
Brown was playing for Duquesne University at the time of his death. One of his former DeMatha teammates, Kellon Taylor, also played with him for the Dukes. Taylor, a wide receiver, donned Brown’s No. 40 last week and had a career-high eight receptions.
“Every play he was on my mind,” Taylor told Pittsburgh Sports Now following his team’s 21-20 loss to Bryant.
Pittsburgh Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin wore a Duquesne T-shirt and hat to his Tuesday press conference. The team and university have close ties.
“We thought, organizationally, it was important that we show our support to our brothers and sisters at the Duquesne football program and university as they deal with their very difficult loss of a team member,” Tomlin said. “We also just thought it was appropriate, as members of this community, that we make some statement in support of them, as I’m sure others have and will continue to do as they work through what is a difficult time.”
Tomlin concluded his remarks with what could also apply to the Stags.
“Our sympathies go out to them, and we pray for them as they move forward,” he said. “Not only just with dealing with what happened, but the challenges that a season presents to a football team.”
Jaylen Brown’s life will be celebrated Monday, Oct. 15 at First Baptist Church of Glenarden in Upper Marlboro. The family will receive friends at noon. The service begins at 1:30 p.m.
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) has been covering DeMatha football since 2015.