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Flames Senior Feature: Mike Brown
As LibertyFlames.com continues to offer coverage of Liberty's football team throughout its bye week, the web site will be providing a look at six of this year's senior players. Throughout the bye week, the web site will release a feature story written about six members of its 17-player graduating senior class.
Today's feature is about senior quarterback Mike Brown. This story was the feature story for the Oct. 15 Flames Illustrated game day program (Homecoming game against Coastal Carolina).
Brown continues to be one of the most dynamic FCS players in the country and is up for the Walter Payton Award for the second year in a row.
Brown currently ranks No. 7 in the country in total offense, as he leads the Big South by averaging 302.00 yards per contest. He also ranks No. 8 in points responsible for (16.44 per game), No. 10 in passing efficiency (153.82), No. 17 in passing yards per game (255.89) and No. 18 in total passing yards (2,302).
Following Those Who Came Before Him
Homecoming weekend is designated for alumni, family and friends to get together on Liberty Mountain and enjoy great fall traditions with a Big South Conference battle as the centerpiece event.
Throughout Liberty's 40 years, many can reflect on the days watching the various Flames quarterbacks who have led Liberty to victory. In the 70s and early 80s, Glenn Inverso and Phil Basso are names to recall. Paul Johnson and Robby Justino were the quarterbacks who led the Flames during the program's beginning years at the NCAA Division I level.
Antwan Chiles, Ben Anderson and, in recent years, Brock Smith also have made their marks at quarterback in the Liberty record books. But the one calling signals in today's game for the Flames could surpass them all, especially in accolades and national achievements.
Last season, Mike Brown ranked No. 1 in the country in total offense, averaging 346.4 yards a game. He also collected his second Big South Player of the Year Award, and could potentially claim another this season.
Many remember when Brown broke on the national scene in 2009 against West Virginia, finishing the game with 271 all-purpose yards. As a sophomore wide receiver, he recorded 107 yards on kickoff returns and 157 receiving yards against the Mountaineers.
Tommy Beecher was the starting quarterback that season, but when Beecher suffered a concussion during the second game of the year, the coaching staff knew who would be the starting quarterback the following week.
Brown led Liberty to a hard-fought 19-13 victory on the road against Lafayette. In his first career start at quarterback, he recorded a 29-of-36 passing performance for 242 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed 20 times for 88 yards and a touchdown.
"I think the biggest thing that helped me through that experience was I always met with Coach (Brandon) Streeter during practices," Brown said, reflecting on how he prepared to played quarterback that week.
"He always taught me plays from a quarterback perspective, even when I was playing receiver. It wasn't that tough a transition for me because I was used to lining up in a ‘Wildcat' package at least once a game, so I looked at that as playing a full game of ‘Wildcat'."
Beecher recovered the next week, and the selfless Brown followed his coach's wishes, going back to wide receiver the rest of the year. Brown ended that season as the first player in Big South history to earn Big South Player of the Year honors as a sophomore.
It is apparent Brown is an unselfish player, a quality the coaching staff likes. He also is well-respected by his teammates. This is his third year to serve as team captain, and not many are elected for such a position as a redshirt sophomore, especially after starting three games as a freshman.
"You have to have confidence in order to be successful," commented Brown. "At the end of the day, my goal is to win and to do my job to help my team. I am always critiquing myself and try to find ways to get better. In that way, I'm fulfilling my part in helping my team be successful."
For the last two seasons, Brown has been on the Walter Payton Award watch list, the FCS equivalent to the Heisman Trophy. This year, he is considered by many the top quarterback in the Commonwealth of Virginia – both at the FCS and FBS level.
Brown, though, is happy he's playing for Liberty. He considered these past few years the best experience of his life and is pleased with how he has developed as a football player, giving much of the credit to the Flames' coaching staff.
Others he appreciates and considers to be great examples for him are former teammates Rashad Jennings (currently playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars), Dominique Bolden and Smith.
"Rashad always encouraged me," Brown said. "I saw him do some things on the field that were amazing. I also saw how hard he worked in practice day in and day out, and that inspired me."
Bolden, a wide receiver who played at Liberty from 2005-08, helped Brown learn receiving routes while adjusting as a young receiver.
"He worked with me every single day after practice," Brown said. "We work on routes, running up and down the field working on catching the ball. He always encouraged me, even though I was playing behind him. He was a big influence on how I play now."
Smith also had a hand in grooming Brown to being successful at quarterback.
"Brock helped me learn the entire offense," he said. "He helped me see things from different perspectives. Coach Streeter would teach us a certain way, and Brock would offer suggestions on how to execute plays, which really helped me develop as a quarterback."
Brown has a chance for redemption as he leads the Flames today against Big South foe Coastal Carolina. The Chants collected a 45-31 victory over Liberty last year, allowing Coastal Carolina an edge to advance into the FCS Playoffs.
Suffering an injury in the game, Brown produced his lowest passing percentage on the season, throwing 21-of-39 (53.8 percent) for 274 yards. The injury kept him out of practice the entire following week, which preceded Liberty's final game of the season against Stony Brook.
In a late-week decision, Coach Rocco realized the team needed Brown to play if they had any chance to force a possible three-way tie for the Big South title. Brown produced his best game of his career, collecting 494 yards of total offense (160 rushing and 334 passing) and leading the Flames to a 54-28 victory.
"The attitude we are taking is every game is a championship game." Brown said. "We are playing for our fifth-consecutive Big South championship, so that has to be our focus every game. We know what happened last year, so we have to learn from our experiences and do what we can to overcome those mistakes and be successful this year."
Along with his versatile talent and leadership attitude, Brown has the heart of a champion. At the end of this season, he will be a welcomed addition to the many successful Liberty quarterbacks of the past.
Chris Doyle is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics