Sep 29, 2009

What can (Mike) Brown do for you?

by Daniel Martinez

A competitive but decisive loss to West Virginia, a shootout-turned-blowout against North Carolina Central, a walk-in-the-park-turned-nail-biter at Lafayette and a rain soaked loss to in-state rival James Madison: the first four games of Liberty University’s 2009 football season have been four very different affairs.

Despite the varying degrees of play by the Flames, one common thread has connected all four contests. That thread is rapidly becoming the most talked-about item in the two-time defending Big South Champions’ new season – that number 10 can play.

Liberty’s 33-20 Sept. 5 loss to West Virginia University was disappointing to the Flames faithful – despite the team’s solid effort – but what really jumped out at the team’s following were the stats compiled by redshirt sophomore Mike Brown.

In the game, Brown spent time at wide receiver, running back and kickoff returner, gaining a total of 271 offensive yards and tying for the fifth-best mark in school history. He won Big South Offensive Player of the Week honors and turned heads across the country. But there was a wrinkle; he can also play quarterback.

Shortly after an injury ended senior quarterback Tommy Beecher’s night in the Sept. 12 home opener against the NCCU Eagles, Brown began taking the snaps behind center for the rest of the game. He finished 10-for-12 for 71 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for 37 yards and another score.

The next week, with Beecher still out of action, Brown made his first collegiate start at quarterback in the Sept. 19 meeting against the Lafayette Leopards. He promptly won Big South Offensive Player of the Week with a superb 29-for-36, 256 yard, one touchdown passing performance coupled with an 88-yard haul on 20 rushes. Behind their sterling quarterback, the Flames won 19-13.

While Liberty fans – and opposing defenses – are just finding out what a game-changer Brown can be, his coach and fellow players have always known there was something special about him.

“I can remember when we were recruiting him. We went to watch him practice basketball, and I was amazed at how hard he played and how much energy he brought to the team,” Head Coach Danny Rocco said.

According to Rocco, right then, he said to himself, “this guy really might be special.”

“(He) came to my house the winter of my senior year, while recruiting me,” Brown said. “[My decision] was between Liberty, Richmond and William & Mary, and I visited and (Liberty) felt like the right place to be.”

Brown has certainly seemed special, as he stretches out his hands for a pass, rears back and connects with an open receiver, or tucks the ball under his arm and rushes forward for key yards, but he is, like all athletes, a flesh-and-blood human being as well.
Brown hails from Charlottesville, Va., where he was born on Feb. 9, 1989 as the younger of two kids. Growing up, he passed time not spent in school or church functions playing football, basketball and baseball and developing a strong love for each.

Brown admits to having had no clear favorite of the three sports early on, and he starred in all three at Monticello High School. His earliest experience in football was as a running back in youth flag football (which he began playing at age five), but in ninth grade – the year the Monticello Mustangs lost the state championship – he was tested as a wide receiver. The next year, his second year on varsity and his first as a starter, he was given the chance to play quarterback.

“Wherever coach decides to put (Mike), I know he’ll do well,” Liberty sophomore wide receiver Chris Summers said.

Last year, Brown played wide receiver while Brock Smith dominated time at quarterback, and, from the get-go this year, he’s been playing hard.

“He’s been amazing in terms of what he’s been able to accomplish,” Rocco said. “The thing that’s so neat is that you look at the stat sheet for any of our games and your jaw just has to drop when you look at him.”

“My perception of (Mike) hasn’t changed,” Summers said of Brown in light of Brown’s second Offensive Player of the Week honor. “We all knew Mike was a leader.”

Awards and eye-popping stats have followed Brown early in the 2009 football season, but Brown is still an ordinary college student. He has favorite movies (Denzel Washington’s Déjà Vu), favorite types of music (hip hop, R&B), a dream (playing professional football after college), and a favorite Bible verse (Matthew 7:7: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”). He also has a story of faith.

“I’ve gone to church all my life,” Brown said, referring specifically to New Hope Baptist of Charlottesville. Years of being churched brought him to Liberty, and to an eye-opening moment of self-reflection.

“A pastor that lives next door to me ended up asking my dad if I could speak to a group of kids about how I got saved, and I realized I didn’t really have a testimony,” Brown said. “I talked to Coach [Ed Gomes] about it, and he told me maybe you haven’t been saved – just because your mom’s a Christian and your dad’s a Christian doesn’t mean you are saved. He asked me if I died if I would go to heaven, and I just got quiet.”

“Since then,” he added, “I’ve changed a lot.”

A man of football and faith, Brown knows which one takes priority, even as the key matchup with sixth-ranked James Madison University loomed.

“Don’t let whatever sport it is (you play) become an idol. We (players) are reminded of that every day, that we’re playing to glorify God’s name.”

Brown quoted the late Dr. Jerry Falwell about the program itself: “If it’s Christian, it ought to be better.”

In the words of Coach Rocco, Brown has had a “miraculous” start to the 2009 season. He may see less time at quarterback as Beecher recovers but Brown, who acknowledges that his on-field talent comes from God, is not backing down from giving it his all.

Contact Daniel Martinez at dpmartinez@liberty.edu.


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