Three years ago, Jayden Drayton looked to be next in line in the Terrors’ backfield as the freshman ran for 148 yards and a touchdown in Glynn Academy’s sixth straight win over Brunswick High in the annual City Championship rivalry game.
A lot has changed since then.
The Pirates have flipped the script to win the past two matchups, and the former first-year phenom is now sporting the Blue and Gold. One thing has remained the same — Drayton is still one of the most explosive players in the Golden Isles and figures to be a difference maker in the Battle Between the Bricks.
Growing up in Glynn County, it’s common for friends and family to spend their youth football careers playing under one unified banner before being zoned off to feed into one of the local high schools.
Drayton played ball with future Pirates Ivan Johnson, Kevin Thomas and Gerald Quick, but just a few short years later, he was leading the Terrors to a nail-biting victory in the 2019 City Championship, a Chase Gabriel field goal as time expired extending Glynn’s series record winning streak to six games.
Still in a Glynn Academy uniform, Drayton also played a pivotal role in deciding the 2020 City Championship — though not in the way he’d imagined.
After recording more than 600 yards of offense his freshman year, Drayton saw more playing time in the Terrors’ secondary as a sophomore, limiting him to just one 34-yard reception in the rivalry rematch.
Then there was the heartbreak.
Glynn Academy had stormed back to take a lead with under a minute remaining, but backed up in deep in its own territory, Brunswick’s Hail Mary was answered on a deep throw tipped by Drayton and into the waiting arms of Pirates receiver Tyrease Jones, who raced 75 yards for the winning score.
Drayton is over on Altama Avenue now, but the memory still stings a bit. Of course, the play also provided the catalyst to the most important decision of his career.
“I was in the middle of the play, so…” Drayton said with a smile. “It sucked, but I feel like everything happens for a reason, and that’s a big reason I’m here now.
“I think everything after that play leading up to now, I’m happy. It’s the best thing that’s happened to me. I’m happy the way it happened. It sucked, but it’s all good though.”
Drayton finished out his second year at Glynn, however he couldn’t help but notice what was being built across town.
Wrapping up its fourth season under the direction of former head coach Sean Pender at 8-4 with a second-round loss to the eventual Class 6A runners-up, Brunswick appeared to be a sailing in the right direction with a program constantly preaching its family atmosphere.
The Pirates held weekly meetings where players and coaches could speak openly and honestly with one another about both football and life during a time where former BHS standout Ahmaud Arbery’s murder shook the city to its core. It all appealed to the thoughtful, intelligent athlete that has gone on to commit to Harvard.
“I really just saw an opportunity to be my own man,” Drayton said. “I kind of model myself on just being different from everybody else. It was something I wanted to do because I’d seen the motto they had over here, ‘All About the Family,’ I saw the work they were doing with the Ahmaud Arbery case and everything like that. It was just something that wasn’t going on on the other side.
“It was something I just wanted to be a part of. I saw an opportunity for growth, an opportunity to play at this high level we’re playing at now.”
It wasn’t easy to cross the rivalry lines, but Drayton couldn’t be happier with his decision.
The Pirates haven’t shied away from their commitment to social justice, beginning each game last season with a unity march that saw the team link arms and walk from goal post to goal post. Brunswick still presents itself as a family on and off the field.
And the team is winning. A lot.
“It was kind of like a dream come true,” Drayton said. “When we were younger, we always talked about like, ‘Dang, we won’t be able to play together because I’ll be in the Red and White, and ya’ll will be in the Blue and Gold,’ so it was pretty cool to be able to just come play with these guys I’ve played with since I was younger.”
The Pirates have won 15 of 16 games since Drayton arrived at Brunswick High, including the 2021 City Championship game in his first reunion with his former team.
Unfortunately, Drayton wouldn’t get the chance to contribute much to his new team’s thrilling overtime victory. Still primarily playing in the defensive secondary, Drayton had two carries for 18 yards before an injury forced him from his spot at starting corner in the first half of the contest.
It may have ultimately been for the best in the heated atmosphere.
“I was very emotional about the game going in, and it wasn’t the best thing for me,” Drayton said. “I kind of got too jacked up early on, but it’s all good.
“There was some trash talk going on, but I’m where I am. I’m happy to be here with my brothers.”
Drayton doesn’t expect emotions to be an issue Friday.
Back on the offensive side of the ball full-time, Drayton has settled in to his new reality as a Pirate and returned to the form that saw him light up Glynn County Stadium in his first City Championship appearance.
Brunswick’s leading scorer on the season, Drayton has scored seven touchdowns over four games while filling up the stat sheet with 190 rushing yards, 94 receiving yards, 77 punt return yards and 23 yards in kick returns.
“Everybody knows what I can do, but just for me to be able to show what I can do with the ball in my hands, it’s really just building my confidence back,” Drayton said. “Building me back to the mindset that I’m one of the best players on the field anytime I’m on the field — not in a cocky way at all, but just knowing I can make plays for the team; I can be a leader for the team.”
Over his career, the do-it-all athlete has compiled 1,232 rushing yards, 359 receiving yards, 77 passing yards, two interceptions and 15 total touchdowns. He’s been a crucial part of two region championship-winning programs. He’s won two City Championships.
Drayton has nothing left to prove as he enters his fourth and final Battle Between the Bricks. He just wants to win.
“It’ll be my second time going around,” Drayton said. “I’m not too focused on revenge or anything like that. I’m just trying to win the game, play my role, and paint the city blue.”