Ike Rochell couldn’t bear to watch his son go through it any longer.
Braylen Rochell spent his first two years of his prep football career at Southaven High. Nothing, it seems, could go his way.
Braylen, a 6-foot-4 multiple-sport athlete who has had a viable presence on the AAU hoops circuit in recent years, routinely dressed out for the Southaven varsity football team, but spent an ample of amount of time roaming the sideline while a number of his unproven teammates played ahead of him.
At some point during his sophomore season, his father sensed an immediate change was essential. But not before he met with Chargers head coach Ed Rich to try and resolve the issue.
“The conversation was really easy to understand that a move was going to happen in order for him to be happy playing high school sports,” Ike Rochell said. “We don’t want to sit back and not watch him play. It was very frustrating, considering Braylen had been (at Southaven) since seventh grade. And to not see him get to play was very frustrating.”
According to Ike Rochell, Rich appeared to have taken the hands-off approach when he was asked about Braylen’s lack of playing time.
“I talked to Ed Rich and he basically came to me as if he had some personal reasons,” Ike Rochell explained. “I had been sitting back and being patient. At one point, he told me he didn’t have a relationship with Braylen because he was playing AAU ball. So I told him we were going to take a step forward.”
For the Rochells, that step forward turned out to be less than two miles across the Tennessee state line at nearby Whitehaven High. Fortunately for them, it wound up being not a risky move, but rather arguably the best decision for a dual threat athlete who, to his credit, wasted little time adjusting with the tradition-rich Tiger football program.
“It was great because coming in as a newcomer, that’s not easy,” Braylen said. “Coming into a new environment with new coaches, that’s a difficult thing. Most newcomers would think the wrong way. It’s not as easy as everybody think. My family didn’t feel it was good to play sports at Southaven.”
Southaven’s loss ultimately turned out to be a huge gain for Whitehaven.
That’s because Braylen was installed as a starter two weeks into last season and performed as if he had much to prove after spending so much time on the sideline at Southaven.
In many aspects, he did.
“I’ve known Braylen since he was a kid,” Whitehaven coach Rodney Saulsberry said. “His dad, Ike and I, have known each other for a long time. Knowing him growing up, the most important thing that I Ike and I talked about was that I cared about him as a kid beyond football and anything else. Even if he was still at Southaven, it would have still been the same relationship. You know…what can I do to help him?”
Just as he’s done for so many athletes who were in search of their identity, Saulsberry provided Braylen with a golden opportunity to put his talents on display.
He didn’t disappoint.
Instead, he started 11 games at wide receiver for the Tigers, finishing the season with 15 catches for more than 400 yards and seven touchdowns in helping Whitehaven to a 9-3 mark. And, while his impressive mechanics, speed, and size will likely enable him to remain a starter heading into his senior campaign, it’s evident that Whitehaven was the right fit, in large part because Braylen has quickly come under the radar by a number of colleges.
Credit Saulsberry for arranging for him to attend several 7-on-7 camps last summer, most notably at Vanderbilt, Auburn, Ole Miss, Memphis, and Arkansas, among others. A multi-sport athlete who also is starting swingman for Whitehaven’s basketball team, Braylen is expected to partake in a number of skills camps in the coming months.
“He’s given me plenty of opportunities to get exposure,” Braylen said. “He’s sent me to 7-on-7 team camps and combines. He’s has a reputation for getting guys in (college), not just in sports, but for academics. He didn’t recruit me, but he wanted me to come here because he heard about the situation I was in.”
For Ike Rochell, what seemingly was a disheartening situation for his son the previous two years at Southaven appeared to have worked out superbly for Braylen, considering he has already generated letters of interest from Cincinnati, Memphis, and Auburn, among others, in his brief time at Whitehaven.
“I actually feel like that during the summer, coach Saulsberry did a lot for my son going into the season,” Ike Rochell said. “I told (Rich) we’re going to take a step forward and take his talents to Whitehaven. I let Braylen give me his opinion about things. But I had to look overall picture.”
An “overall” picture that, to Braylen’s delight, was less than two miles across the Tennessee state line.