Howard Brown can't speak to the future. He's focused on the now.
The longtime football coach at McCluer South-Berkeley, Brown doesn't know if this season will be the last for the program as he knows it. The Ferguson-Florissant School Board is considering several options that would reshape the school district to account for its shrinking enrollment. One of the options would turn Berkeley into a selective-admission academy for science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) to include all students in the district, not just those who reside in Berkeley.
“The school board will vote in October and we'll know what will happen to our kids,” Brown said.
In the meantime, it's business as usual for the Bulldogs. And business has been good.
Berkeley was 10-1 last season, its lone loss coming at home to Blair Oaks in the Class 3 quarterfinals. Two seasons ago, the Bulldogs were 12-1 and lost in the state semifinals.
Berkeley is No. 10 in the STLhighschoolsports.com small-school preseason rankings.
In his 15 years at the helm at Berkeley, Brown has instilled an identity of “faith and hard work” for his program. It's not just for T-shirts or breaking huddles. It's what Brown hopes he and his coaching staff can instill in their players every day. Berkeley's student body deals with many of the same trappings and tragedies that plague so many urban districts in the area.
“Our No. 1 thing is we don't count the days, we make the days count,” Brown said. “Tomorrow is not promised. They're very focused on the moment.”
So much so that Brown said not one player has asked what will happen to the school or the team next season. Instead their attention is on the task in front of them.
“All they're focused on is MICDS,” Brown said.
The Bulldogs will tussle with the Rams for the first time in Brown's tenure and he thinks it may be the first time ever. The game, scheduled for 1 p.m. Aug. 25 at Berkeley, will be a good gauge for where the Bulldogs' fresh faces are as the season kicks off.
And there are several.
Junior Jaylen Gardner takes over as the starting quarterback. He completed nine of his 14 passes last season for 91 yards and four touchdowns in limited duty behind Tavian Willis. He is latest in a long line of Gardners to play at Berkeley. Brown expects Gardner to make plays with his feet and his arm.
Senior running back Nathan Smith is the leading returning rusher after he racked up 339 yards and four touchdowns in a crowded backfield. Smith prepared for his larger role as a senior soon after his junior season ended.
“He completely gave the second semester of his junior year his total focus,” Brown said.
Senior running back Kameron Cole returns after he rushed for 342 yards and four touchdowns on 37 carries.
The defense returns seven players who saw significant time, and there are key pieces at all three levels. Senior defensive lineman Erik Morten had 36 tackles and a sack. Junior defensive end Torre McMiller had 34 tackles. Senior Kevon James and sophomore Tyreek Smith bring the experience at linebacker. James had 49 tackles and a sack. Smith, who started, finished his freshman season with 45 tackles and two sacks.
Nathan Smith had 15 tackles and a team-high three interceptions as a cornerback.
There are holes for the Bulldogs to fill. They lost three starting offensive linemen to graduation. The defensive line was among the best Brown has had.
“We're in a transition,” he said. “I'm glad I'm not a rookie head coach. I've been through this a few times.”
Whether or not it's the last time at Berkeley as it's currently constructed is to be determined. That, Brown said, is out of his hands.
“I think about right now,” he said. “We're not focused on anything that's out of our control.”
2018 area football schedules
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