Ravenwood and Brentwood Academy are about 8 miles apart on opposite sides of Brentwood.
Van Jefferson was a star player for Ravenwood and Jalen Ramsey filled the same role for BA.
Now, they’re teammates with the Los Angeles Rams, who face Cincinnati in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
Brycen Hopkins, a former Ensworth tight end, also plays for the Rams.
“No, we never played against each other in high school, but we knew of each other,” Jefferson said of Ramsey. “We weren’t as cool as we are now, but we knew about each other and then when I got here he was kind of someone that came and talked to me, both being from Brentwood.”
Jefferson said they are eager to represent Brentwood respectfully in the NFL’s biggest game.
“Van is a little homey. That’s my little brother, really,” Ramsey said. “We were in different divisions. My high school was better than his. We would have smacked them in high school.”
Ramsey, 27, is 2 years older than Jefferson. They talk about their high schools being close together all the time.
“Being from where we’re from, it’s kind of like a small number of guys who make it and do something really good and successful, so we all try to support each other,” Ramsey said. “Then when we drafted him here with the Rams it was cool to have another guy come over here so I try to do whatever I can to help him continue growing and being a really good football player.”
Jefferson, who has become one of the Rams’ top receivers, was drafted in the second round out of Florida in 2020.
Ramsey, one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks, was traded to Los Angeles from Jacksonville in 2019. He signed a five-year, $105 million contract extension with the Rams in 2020.
Jefferson remains close with Ravenwood coach Will Hester.
“Oh, yeah, that’s my guy, man,” Jefferson said. “I love Coach Hester. I talk to Coach Hester every day. He’s someone I talk to about things just outside of football and he’s always been there for me.”
Jefferson gave the Raptors players Bluetooth headphones when they qualified for the playoffs this season.
Ramsey and Jefferson are hoping to lead the Rams to their first Super Bowl title in LA.
“It was a great feeling for everybody on the team, but there’s more work to do,” Jefferson said of reaching the Super Bowl. “Obviously, the main goal is to win the Super Bowl, but you’ve got to enjoy the moments, too. It’s been a long season.”
The Rams (12-5) rallied to beat San Francisco and Tampa Bay during the past two rounds of the playoffs.
“That’s what the playoffs are all about,” Jefferson said. “You’ve got great teams in the playoffs and there have been some great games, especially against Tom Brady. We’re all sad to see him retire, but that game was a nailbiter.”
Jefferson and Ramsey go against each other occasionally in practice.
“We have our battles,” Jefferson said. “Jalen wins some; I win some. I mean, he’s the best corner in the NFL so, of course, you’re going to lose some, but we go back and forth.”
Jefferson said Ramsey is very passionate about the game.
“He plays it free and I feel like that mentality separates him from every other corner in the league, and I think he proves it every Sunday,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson plays in a star-studded receiving corps with Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham Jr. and Tyler Higbee.
“You’ve got the Triple Crown winner in Cooper Kupp, you’ve got one of the best receivers in the league in Odell,” Jefferson said. “It’s great. They’ve been helpful towards me since I got here. It’s fun, man.”
Kupp became the first receiver since 2005 to lead the league in receptions (145), receiving yards (1,9477) and receiving touchdowns (16) during the regular season.
“I think his attention to detail,” said Jefferson when asked what makes Kupp such a good receiver. “He can see something on the film and then we get to the field and he’s, like, ‘OK, they’re fixing to do this.’ And you go back and watch it the next day, like, ‘Oh, man they did do it.’ ”
Jefferson’s dad, Shawn, is the Arizona Cardinals wide receivers coach.
He played receiver in the NFL for four teams from 1991-2003. Shawn played in two Super Bowls.
Over 91 million television viewers in the U.S watched the Super Bowl last year.
“He told me it was a great experience, but just treat it as another game. Don’t get caught up in the moment,” Van said. “It’s easier said than done because you’re playing in the biggest game of the year.”
Jefferson (6-1, 200) caught 50 passes for 802 yards and six TDs during the regular season. He added five more catches for 79 yards during the past three playoff games.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford has given the Rams a spark after spending the previous 12 seasons with Detroit.
“I think we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Matthew,” Jefferson said. “He’s done a great job. We’re all behind him.”
Jefferson is considered one of the NFL’s best route runners.
“That’s something that my dad instilled in me,” Jefferson said. “That’s a part of being a receiver as well. I think you have to have that in your game. That’s going to separate you from the pack.”
Jefferson is listed as questionable due to a knee injury, but should be healthy enough to play Sunday.
“I’ll make sure it gets better before Sunday, for sure,” Jefferson said. “I’ll be alright.”
The Bengals held the Chiefs to three points in the second half of the AFC Championship, so Jefferson knows the Rams face a difficult challenge.
“They have great players on the defense,” Jefferson said. ‘I think when you look at them, they have a good secondary with two great safeties in (Jessie) Bates and Vonn Bell.”
Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell is happy with the progress Jefferson has made in his second NFL season.
“Oh, it’s been a huge part of our season,” McConnell said. “You think back to some of the plays he was able to make as a rookie and he flashed here and there. We really thought coming into this year Van would take that next step forward.”
McConnell said the coaching staff wanted him to be major vertical threat.
“But he does so many things following in the footsteps of Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp to really do a lot of different things to help our offense,” O’Connell said. “In the run game we’ve seen him as of late make an impact as a ball carrier on some jet sweeps. He’s been good in the screen game, he’s been good situationally in the red zone and on third down and everybody has seen when we’ve given him opps down the field he consistently covers so much ground, gets down the field and then finishes plays when they’re there to be made.”
McConnell said he can’t wait to see where Jefferson ascends to in the future.
Jefferson’s favorite memory from Ravenwood was catching a 90-yard TD pass from Cole Brown, now a scouting assistant with the New York Giants, against Franklin during his senior year.
“He had been sick all day and had the flu, and we weren’t sure if he was even going to get to play,” Hester said. “We joke around that Michael Jordan played one of the best games of his career with the flu and then Van kind of did the same thing.”
Jefferson also caught a 65-yard TD pass and threw an 8-yard TD pass in Ravenwood’s 35-34 overtime loss to Maryville in the 2014 Class 6A championship.
Jefferson and Hester formed a strong bond during his time with the Raptors.
“He went through some things during his high school years that we kind of battled through together and I think that made our relationship a little closer than most,” Hester said. “His dad was a super important role in coaching him up, but being an NFL coach there were times that his dad was at camp or busy or whatever and I think I was able to spend more time with him that way when his dad wasn’t around.”
Hester accompanied Jefferson on some of his recruiting visits when Jefferson’s mom was busy with his sister and his dad was busy with football.
Hester also helped Jefferson make some tough decisions like when he transferred from Ole Miss to Florida.
Jefferson got Hester and his family tickets to the Super Bowl.
“I have a Rams pullover that I’m gonna wear, so I’ll be supporting the team colors,” Hester said.
Ramsey is happy to be going to the Super Bowl for the first time in his six-year career.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever played in February in my career, so it feels good,” Ramsey said.
Los Angeles faces a challenging task trying to contain the Bengals’ offense, led by quarterback Joe Burrow (4,611 passing yards, 34 TDs), receiver Ja’Marr Chase (1,455 yards, 13 TDs) and receiver Tee Higgins (1,091 yards, six TDs).
“I think Joe does a good job of leading their offense,” Ramsey said. “They play with a lot of swag, a lot of energy, a lot of juice, so I think they’re good.”
Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has enormous confidence in Ramsey covering Chase one-on-one.
“I would put Jalen on anybody in the history of our game and that’s just how I feel about Jalen,” Morris said. “That has nothing to do with Ja’Marr Chase, that has nothing to do with Tee Higgins, that has nothing to do with Tyler Boyd. They should feel the same way.”
Morris said every player should believe he can win a one-one-one matchup.
Beckham did a signed jersey swap with Ramsey in 2018 when the receiver played for the Giants.
Beckham has a big memorabilia collection that includes jerseys from his teammates in a legacy room in his home.
“Jalen Ramsey, AD, Von Miller – these are guys who you’ve battled against, you’ve got nothing but respect for and it’s just memories that are gonna last a lifetime,” Beckham said. “So the jersey swap will continue as long as I’m playing and around.”
Ramsey (6-1, 208), a five-time Pro Bowl selection, has 77 tackles and four interceptions this season.
“Definitely, having a guy like Ramsey back there, he’s special, obviously, we all know that,” said Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a three-time AP Defensive Player of the Year. “He’s a guy that can cover one side of the field by himself, so having a talent like that on the back end with the players we’ve got, man, it's been great.”
Ramsey has been spending time with 11-year-old Silas Hoffman, who is battling leukemia. Ramsey is his favorite player.
“Obviously, I love kids,” Ramsey said. “Me and Silas have built a relationship. That’s my little homey, that’s my dog, so I hope that everything I do when I’m going out there that I’m making him proud and at the same time supporting him in his fight.”
Ramsey’s athleticism is one of his best traits.
“Well, his first spring I was here I want to say he jumped out of the long jump pit,” BA coach Cody White said. “We had to put a temporary board up. He’s probably good enough, if he really would have worked at it, to be an Olympic-caliber long jumper.”
Ramsey soared into the state record book with a leap of 25-3.25 in the long jump at the 2013 state track and field meet.
“He’s just one of those guys that anything he did physically he was going to be excellent at it,” White said.
Cornerback is one of the most pressurized positions in football.
“You can’t hide out there,” White said. “The only time you get noticed at corner is if they score a touchdown on you or you get a pick.”
One of White’s best memories of Ramsey came during a televised loss to Ensworth during his senior year.
“I bet there were at least seven, maybe more, guys that at some point were part of NFL rosters in that game between both teams,” White said. “I just remember late in the game he popped a little screen from the goal line and it was a great individual effort play to give us a chance to score. He popped one for 90-something yards.”
Ramsey transferred from Ensworth to BA when he was a sophomore.
Florida State won the national championship during his freshman season in 2013.
Hopkins (6-4, 245) is a third-string tight end behind Higbee and Johnny Mundt.
The second-year pro from Purdue has one reception for 9 yards.
He will become the first Ensworth player to be in a Super Bowl game when the Rams take the field at SoFi Stadium in LA.
“Lots of Tigers are celebrating Brycen’s Super Bowl participation and hopefully a championship,” said Ricky Bowers, who coached him at Ensworth. “Brycen has always been a steady, smart, understated (player). That’s the way he approaches things, but you can count on him.”
His dad is former Titans offensive tackle Brad Hopkins.
“He’s smart, athletic, savvy,” Bowers said of Brycen. “He can run, catch, throw, change directions, jump, (he’s) strong.”
When Hopkins played at Purdue, the Boilermakers played in the Music City Bowl and they practiced at Ensworth.
But now Hopkins, Ramsey and Jefferson are moving onto the NFL’s biggest stage.
They’ve come a long way since their high school days in Brentwood and Nashville.