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July 3, 2013

Callaway quartet shares strong bond



MORE: RGTV: DAYALL HARRIS|RGTV: RONALD WALKER

JACKSON, Miss. -- Rod Taylor laughs as he recalls playfully ribbing the snare player with the broad shoulders and bulging biceps.

That drummer, Breeland Speaks, admits that the attention Taylor began to receive years ago has served as fuel as he chases his own dreams.

Ronald Walker giggles as he recalls returning from a combine with Taylor, Speaks and Dayall Harris. Months later, Harris' flatulence brings laughter.

"We had to let the window down," Walker said, a smile stretching across his face.

Soon, the foursome will embark on their senior seasons at Callaway High School in Jackson, hoping to win a Class 6A state championship. In February, all four players will almost certainly sign national letters-of-intent with Southeastern Conference programs.

Then they'll go their separate ways. Or will they? They weren't always friends. Harris and Walker went to daycare together as toddlers. Harris and Taylor played basketball against one another in junior high. Speaks didn't join the group until he put his drum down in favor of shoulder pads.

Now, however, the four are practically inseparable.

"We just bonded over time," Speaks said. "It's a bond of brothers."

THE MAKING OF A FRIENDSHIP: Harris and Walker were reunited in junior high school. They were rivals of sorts with Taylor and Speaks, who went to a different middle school in Jackson.

Brought together at Callaway, it wasn't friendship at first sight. Taylor, a 6-foot-4 offensive tackle, was focused on basketball. So was Harris, a 6-3 wide receiver. Walker, a 6-1, 194-pound safety, was focused on football. The trio spent nights at each other's homes frequently, slowly building a relationship that now feels like family.

Speaks, a 6-4, 285-pound defensive lineman, was a reserve offensive lineman on Callaway's team as a freshman. When that season ended, he left the sport to concentrate on his first love - percussion.

"At first, I used to pick on Breeland because he quit football to be in the band," Harris said. "Then I saw how big he was getting and quit. I thought, 'He's fixing to tackle me,' so I stopped making fun of him. Now he's balling."

"Breeland used to be a band boy," Taylor said. "He played the snare. I was like, 'You're getting too big to be in the band. You're too big to be playing a snare.' Once he gained some weight and got big, I was like, 'You might as well put down that drumstick."

[Recruiting: 2015 standouts intrigued by idea of playing together?]

Speaks did just that, returning to the gridiron for his junior season. Soon thereafter, he was drawing major-college interest similar to that already being shown to Walker, Harris and Taylor. The quartet began taking trips together to college campuses and to recruiting combines. Those hours on the road solidified friendships.

PUSHING ONE ANOTHER: Taylor was the first of the four to draw scholarship offers. Taylor camped at Alabama and had an offer from the Crimson Tide shortly thereafter.

"I used to always ask Rod, 'When am I going to get one?'" Harris said. "He would just say, 'They'll come.' I was happy for him but I wondered when I'd get mine. I was never jealous. I just thought he was working hard."

Taylor's offers "made me work way harder," Speaks said. "Even with me working harder and as far as I've come from then, I still feel like there's a long way to go. I feel like now I'm getting up there were he is. I'm not up there with him, but I feel like I'm going to make my run.

"I was never jealous, but I felt like my time would come. I don't get the same looks as he does. It's a lack of film, I guess, that really has everybody at a standstill about offering me. Once they see me play, they'll figure out that I am a defensive lineman."

Ironically, it has been Speaks' grinding work ethic that has pushed Taylor to work even harder.

"He said he feeds off what he sees me doing," Taylor said. "That makes me better. Going against Breeland every day and working out with him, it makes you better. If you take it easy, he's going to embarrass you. Breeland has two different personalities. On the field, he's a monster. Off the field, he's just chilling."

Speaks' offer list has grown quickly. He was the Defensive Line MVP at the Rivals Camp Series event in Hoover, Ala., in April, and he has joined Taylor in the Rivals250.

"I don't get jealous about anything," Taylor said. "I congratulate Breeland a lot. Breeland has come a long way."

Harris, who, like Walker, is committed to Ole Miss, said the rankings are used for motivation, frequently at the end of long workouts.

"When we work out, I'm like, 'Rod, you aren't going to be No. 1 working out like that,'" Harris said. "We're just bull-crapping. He'll say, 'You're not going to be No. 1 dropping a pass."

"It just feels good to be around them every day," Walker said. "We're trying to win a championship. We push each other to be better than the next person. We're like a family."

EYES ON THE PRIZE…AND BEYOND: Despite going just 5-6 last season and failing to make the playoffs, Callaway's goal this season is lofty.

"We can win state," Speaks said.

Callaway has had those aspirations before. In 2010, when current Ole Miss offensive linemen Aaron Morris and Justin Bell were seniors at the school, Callaway finished 9-3, losing to New Hope in the first round of the state playoffs.

"We've seen how they wasted their senior year," Harris said. "They had a good team. We can't go out like that."

"We were just as talented Aaron and Justin's senior year as we are these kids' senior year," Callaway coach Darrell Jones said. "These guys were freshmen when Aaron and Justin were seniors, and we really had a solid football team. We had a decent year, but we didn't reach the goals we had as a football team. These guys don't want that to happen to them."

[Recruiting: Petal's Jackson learning from former NFL wide receiver.]

Whether the season ends with a gold trophy in Jackson in December or sometime earlier with a disappointing loss, the four friends have plenty of football ahead of them. The question will beg then as it begs now: Will they play together at the next level?

"I think about it sometimes but I like to stay focused on what I have now," Speaks said. "I know there won't be a squad like this for a very long time at Callaway and I want to cherish that moment."

"I think that even if they do go to the same place, they still will veer off a little bit," Jones said. "They'll strike different paths. I think they'll always have the bond of being from the same high school. But they are different personalities. Initially, they may cling together because that's what they know and that's what's familiar, but the longer they are wherever they decide to go if they stay together, they'll eventually branch off and find some different friends.

If that happens, it will almost certainly be in Oxford.

"It'd be great," Walker said. "It'd be wonderful. All of us make each other work. Rod and Breeland, they tell me they like Ole Miss, but they haven't just told me that's where they want to go."

"That's a possibility that they end up together," Jones said with a _ knowing? _ smile. "If anybody goes anywhere different, I think Breeland or Rod may, but I've got a good feeling that they'll probably be together."



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