Church family, community ready to support AJ Brown, Willie Gay

STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI) – Two Starkville natives who grew up together will line up against each other this Sunday on the football field.

Eagles wide receiver AJ Brown and Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay grew up together at 16th Section Missionary Baptist Church in Starkville. Then they played on the Starkville High School 2015  championship team together. This Sunday, they’ll be opponents in the big game.

A.J. Brown’s father, Arthur Brown, said the congregation was an extended family.

“It was a blessing to have everybody in the community. Then, you got the youth department, like Mrs. Ware that would grab them, say, ‘Now, all right.’,” Brown said.

Bridgette Ware-Gay said her son was required to do as she did growing up: be at church for every event, especially since his late great-grandfather was once the pastor.

“Oh yes. Growing up, we had to be at church, Sunday school, BTU, missionary, whatever was going on,” Ware-Gay said.

By the time they got to high school, their coaches knew they were not ordinary athletes.

“To see him and Willie on the football field, you could tell they were a little different than everybody else that was on the football field. Lights come on and you could tell that they were boys playing against grown men,” said former Starkville School District Athletic Director Milton Smith.

And church members were always there to cheer them on.

“Well, both of them I consider my babies,” said longtime youth leader Gwen Ward.

Church members, family, and school leaders say no matter which team takes the trophy, their hometown wins.

Family members and supporters of Brown and Gay have planned a city-wide pep rally to show their support for both players. It’s Saturday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Starkville High School football stadium. The gates will open at 1 p.m.

The event is free and open to the public.

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