Their mother, Onethia Jerry, worked at a coffin company and as a bus driver, and the odd hours she kept meant that coaches would have to pick up the brothers and drive them to workouts.
“It was tough,” said Willis Wright, one of the coaches. “They were big ol’ boys. It wasn’t an easy job feeding those guys. They struggled.”
The Jerry boys grew up on the football field and in the locker room, and the game became their outlet, a means of finding a way out of Batesville. The first stop was playing for the powerhouse South Panola Tigers. At one point, John, Peria and their cousin Jamarca Sanford, now a safety for the Minnesota Vikings, fortified the Tigers’ defense.
On Friday nights, the community would get behind the squad, with thousands of fans filling Robert H. Dunlap Stadium. Many of the players had fathers, brothers, cousins and uncles who had played there, too.
In the mid-2000s, when John Jerry starred for the Tigers, they went 44-1.
“It was just a tradition and a culture that existed: Don’t lose,” said Lucian King, a former Tigers assistant and a coach for more than 30 years.
King said Jerry, who grew to be 6 feet 5 inches and played on the defensive line at South Panola, was a quiet presence and one of the smartest players he had coached. Once, when a teammate missed a play, Jerry “slapped the other defensive tackle upside the head,” King said.
“John just took care of it,” King said. “He addressed the problem.”
College scouts soon chased Jerry, but his decision was fairly easy. Peria and several cousins had played for Mississippi, which recruited him as an offensive lineman.
“It is real close to home, and I really do not want to leave my mama by herself,” Jerry told Scout.com in 2004. He signed with Ole Miss and spent a year at a military academy, as Peria had, before arriving on campus in fall 2006.
With the Rebels, he was considered among the top freshman linemen in the nation, and his improvement over the ensuing four years mirrored that of his team: Ole Miss evolved into one of the more formidable squads in the Southeastern Conference, winning the Cotton Bowl in 2009 and 2010.
In those winning locker rooms, banter and teasing abounded. They were especially prevalent among the offensive linemen, whose very responsibilities - working in unison to protect the quarterback and clear running room - fostered a closeness not often found in other position groups.
“There were some other guys in the locker room that said things that were pretty offensive,” said Brent Smith, an Ole Miss teammate. “I remember times when John would look at me and say: ‘Man that’s not right. You can’t say that.’”
Mike Markuson, a former Ole Miss offensive line coach, remembers Jerry exhorting teammates in meetings.
“If a guy would get out of line in a meeting, he would tell ‘em to straighten up,” Markuson said. “Linemen are funny guys. They’ll pick on each other in meetings, especially when they are watching film. They all razz each other.”
He added, “That’s part of the culture of playing football.”
Like Jerry, Pouncey grew up playing football alongside his brother - his identical twin, Maurkice, who is now with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Their high school coaches recall them dressing alike and finishing each other’s sentences.
The Pounceys were raised in a modest one-story home on the corner of a quiet street in South Lakeland. Their mother, Lisa Webster, who works for a local Head Start education program, met Webster, their stepfather, when the boys were about a year old.
At the family’s home, photos of the boys, in their Steelers and Dolphins uniforms, hang on the wall. A few miles away, in the locker room at Lakeland Senior High, there is a photo of the Pounceys lined up together, with the words “Double Trouble.”
At Lakeland, Dreadnaughts football is an obsession, and a winning tradition long predated the Pounceys’ arrival. On game days, the Dreadnaughts’ bus gets a police escort to the team’s 10,000-seat stadium a few miles from campus.
One of coach Bill Castle’s assistants, Dan Talbot, spotted the twins in the weight room before their freshman year.
“They were just two chunky little kids with decent height,” said Talbot, who is also the school’s athletic director. “They couldn’t even bench 135 pounds. I just walked by them, looked at them and said, ‘Y’all keep at it, or you aren’t ever going to play for us.’”
The twins spent a year on Lakeland’s junior varsity before being promoted to varsity. As juniors, the Pounceys earned starting spots on the Dreadnaughts’ offensive line, but sometimes they persuaded coaches to let them play defense, too. During their three years on varsity, the team won 45 straight games and three state championships. The Pounceys created a legacy as stars at a school celebrated for producing top-level talent. The coaches remember their 2007 graduating class for sending nine football players to the SEC.