By Victor Parkins
Football season might be six months away, but the recruiting trail is red hot for two Milan Bulldogs.
Anthony Brown (6-2, 192) and AJ Barham (6-4, 230) are two of the top 30 recruits in Tennessee, according to 24/7 Recruiting service. Both are rated as 3-star recruits.
Brown, a multi-purpose athlete, will likely play defensive back on the next level. He is the 12th ranked recruit in the state in the class of 2022. Brown was the West Tennessee Player of the Year last season and a TSSAA Mr. Football finalist. As a junior, he threw for 242 yards and six touchdowns, rushed for 962 yards and 14 touchdowns and had 329 yards receiving with five touchdowns. On defense he recorded 55 tackles, 11 TFL, a sack and 2 picks.
Barham was the second leading tackler for the Bulldogs in 2020 with 86. He had 3 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries, an interception and a tackle for a safety. Barham, a linebacker, is listed as the 28th best recruit in the state by 24/7.
Barham has picked up offers from Indiana, Liberty, Austin Peay, Eastern Kentucky, Coastal Carolina, Louisiana-Monroe, Tennessee State, Jackson State, Tulane, Marshall and Ball State University.
Offers to Brown include Alabama, Oregon, Arkansas, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Central Michigan, Eastern Kentucky, Austin Peay, UT Martin, Tennessee State, Memphis, Michigan, Michigan State, Tulane, Duke, Virginia, Jackson State, Cincinnati, Coastal Carolina, Boston College, Purdue, Georgia State, UAB, Marshall, Indiana, Ball State, Western Kentucky and Liberty.
Brown’s first offer came from Memphis. Along with the Tigers, he lists Indiana, Oregon and Arkansas as his favorites at this time.
“Those are the schools that talk to me the most,” he said. “But I also like Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Michigan State, Virginia and Cincinnati. I’d like to take official visits to all those schools.”
Brown thinks he’ll play Safety or Outside Linebacker on the D1 level. He wants to add about 15-20 pounds to his playing weight.
Brown says that Twitter has a big influence on recruiting.
“Twitter is the main platform,” Brown said. “That’s where they find you and connect with you. After that, they either call me or Coach Diffee.”
While getting a 3-star rating brings a grin to Brown’s face, he doesn’t put much stock on those opinions.
“Those rankings came out a while back so they might change,” he said. “I’m not real sure how that works and it doesn’t mean much to me anyway.”
Brown isn’t sure when he’ll commit or sign with a particular school. For now he’s enjoying the ride and keeping his options open.
“There’s still a few schools I’d like to hear from,” he added. “I haven’t heard anything from Michigan or Florida.”
Barham’s first offer came from Indiana, a school he’ll always admire for the gesture.
“They offered me my sophomore year and it meant a lot to me,” said Barham. “They saw something in me before anyone else did and I’m very thankful for that.”
Barham is being recruited as a linebacker and says he’s versatile enough to play inside or outside.
“I’ll play wherever they need me to help the team win,” he said. “I think I can dominate inside or outside. I’m a downhill, aggressive tackling machine. I can play sideline to sideline and I’m working more on my lateral movement and pass coverage. I’m trying to shorten my steps and be more explosive.”
Because of COVID-19 lockdowns, Barham hasn’t made any official campus visits. But he hopes that will change this spring.
“I really like Costal Carolina,” added Barham. “They’ve showed me more love than all the others. They check on me most everyday and treat me like family. I’d like to visit there, Indiana, Liberty, Jackson State and Tulane.”
Tennessee, a school that Barham really likes, has reached out to him on Twitter but has yet to make an offer.
Barham said most all recruiting nowadays comes through Twitter.
“That’s where it all starts,” Barham said. “They can start a conversation with you and exchange contact information so they can start building a relationship before they make an offer.”
While he’s also rated as a 3-star recruit, Barham said that means very little to him.
“Honestly, those stars don’t mean anything to me. I would feel just as blessed to have just 1-star,” he said. “I’m going to workout like I have no stars because this is only the beginning.”
Barham is in no hurry to make a decision on his college future. He plans to narrow down his choices this fall and make a decision in February, 2022.
“Right now I’m just constantly grinding trying to get better—not worried about recruiting at all,” he said. Getting my team back to state is my number one goal.”
Former Milan gridiron great and Pittsburgh Steeler Avery Williamson committed to Kentucky in November of 2011 and signed his letter of intent on National Signing Day, 2012. Williamson offered a little advice to Brown and Barham about their recruiting adventure.
“Don’t focus on the offers or playing up to a certain standard for the scouts,” said Williamson, who led the Wildcats in tackles his junior and senior seasons. “Be loose and relaxed and enjoy the moment. I still cherish those moments to this day.”
As far as when to commit and when to sign, Williamson said the two star players would have to trust their gut feelings.
“Committing to a school is a decision you have to make when you feel the time is right,” he added. “I committed to Kentucky a few months before signing day. Unless there is a crunch on the amount of scholarships the school has left, take your time and make all your official visits to your top schools on the list. If I could do it again, I would have taken a few more official visits because the food was amazing at the schools.”
Milan head coach Carl Diffee said having the top recruits on his team helps the entire program.
“Most importantly would be the positive publicity that comes from having them on the team,” he said. “Milan has produced elite talent over the years and having 2 guys garnering the national attention now helps our younger guys coming up. And not just because of their talent, but because of their work ethic. They are both hard workers and they are natural leaders. As coaches call to talk about Anthony or offer him we are able to tell them about AJ and the other guys we have and Vice Versa. It’s a special opportunity for both our guys snd for everyone else as well.”
Coach Diffee will not be surprised if Brown and Barham aren’t playing on Sunday’s in the NFL before their playing days are over.
“They can accomplish whatever they put their mind to,” he added. “But my hope is that they enjoy the process snd not focus on that right now.”