Donald Brown -- Words and Deeds
Philanthropy can be an indicator of selflessness, but the real measure of that trait can come in less obvious ways. It's in the way a person feels less comfortable talking about themselves than about others, and in the way a person gives to others at times when others are understandably focusing inward.
Case in point: Two days before the 2009 NFL Draft, while most draft-eligible players are preparing for the big event, Connecticut running back Donald Brown will giving back. He'll be holding a seminar at the Downtown Café in Red Bank, New Jersey, speaking to high school players in his home area about being leaders and role models. This is one of the first steps forward in Brown's dream -- the First Annual Donald Brown Player-to-Player Leadership Conference. Those in attendance will have submitted essays on people who have mentored them, and the seminar will facilitate the idea of giving back.
"I want to share that to the best of my ability. Talking to kids in my area and telling them what to expect," Brown said in a recent interview. "When you have the platform that the NFL gives you -- that reach you didn't have before -- you can have a pretty powerful effect on people."
Brown started building that platform in New Jersey, where he starred at Red Bank High. He was named all-division, All-Monmouth County and All-Jersey Shore, ran for over 2,000 yards and scored 27 touchdowns as a senior in 2004, and lettered in track six times. After a redshirt freshman year at UConn, in 2005, Brown didn't waste any time when he got his chance, becoming the first running back in school history to rush for over 100 yards in his first game. He ran for over 100 yards four times in five starts that year. 2007 was supposed to be his big year until he was shut down with an ankle sprain and wound up sharing time with Andre Dixon.
2008 would be the revelation. Brown led the nation in rushing yards with 2,083 yards on 367 carries and added 21 receptions for 125 yards. He rushed for over 100 yards in 11 of 13 games, and exceeded 200 yards against Temple, Virginia, and Buffalo. That last game, the 38-10 International Bowl win over Buffalo, is the game that Brown remembers most fondly. "That was the last game, and going out on top was special," he said.
It was the culmination of a long team-building journey led by head coach Randy Edsall. "Coach has been tremendous. He's been there 10 years, and the program has been to three bowl games, a Big East championship." And though Brown did some of his best work against better NCAA defenses, it took some time before analysts caught up to what he could do. What Brown knew was that after what he accomplished in 2008, he was ready to declare for the NFL Draft.
"It just felt like the right time," he said. "There were many meetings with my parents and coach Edsall, and it just seemed like the right decision. I got a second-round grade from the NFL Advisory Board. That's a pretty good grade, but they take an average of the results."
On the field, Brown most resembles the player he grew up admiring -- Tiki Barber of the New York Giants. He has Barber's smooth running style and pass-catching ability. He also has a smooth bounce outside reminiscent of Shaun Alexander. But his most valuable trait may be his great agility inside -- his quick cuts inside remind some of Terrell Davis.
"I think those are pretty accurate correlations," Brown said, when I told him about my observations. "I would liken myself to Tiki Barber and Terrell Davis because they weren't flashy, but they got the job done. Tiki Barber's ability catch the ball out of the backfield, and Terrell Davis' ability to run the outside zone and cut upfield."
Brown showed those characteristics at the Combine, where he ran a 4.51 40 (fifth among running backs), a 41.5-inch vertical jump (first overall), 10.5-inch broad jump (third), 6.93 seconds in the three-cone drill (top ten), and 4.10 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle (tied for third). "It's been a memorable one," he said in Indianapolis about his Combine experience. "You only get this chance once. It's an opportunity that comes around once in a lifetime, so you have to make the most of it. You take it one day at a time, but it's been exciting. Finally putting some faces to names, and stuff like that. It's been great."
At his Pro Day on March 26, Brown and teammates Darius Butler and William Beatty were seen by more NFL personnel people than any in the school's history. Having never sent a first-day pick to the NFL before, UConn could have three in 2008.
According to NFLDraftScout.com Senior Draft Analyst and PreDraft panelist Rob Rang, Brown's been sneaking up on a lot of people lately. "Last year at this time, much of the pre-draft focus centered on elite athletes like Darren McFadden and Jonathan Stewart. Behind the scenes former Tulane star Matt Forte quietly moved up the charts as scouts became more acquainted with his all-around game and the better-than-expected athleticism he showed in workouts. Brown is similarly versatile and likewise moving up draft boards at precisely the right time. On film, Brown's vision and quick acceleration through gaps in the defense rank among his best attributes. However, he's also shown surprising straight-line speed and explosiveness in drills, as well as naturally soft hands. In direct opposition to some of his peers, by demonstrating better than expected athletic ability in drills, Brown is confounding scouts who had once pigeon-holed him as a back whose eye-popping collegiate success was more due to the talent and scheme in which he played, rather than his own ability."
"The next few weeks are very surreal for me as my childhood dream of playing in the NFL is about to become a reality," Brown said in the recent press release announcing his Leadership Conference. "While I am excited about the opportunities that await me, I am more than appreciative to those who helped me get to this stage in my athletic career. Without the love and support of my family and coaches, Frank Edgerly at Red Bank and Randy Edsall at UConn, I would not be in this position today."
For some, it's just more about others. In Brown's case, he's got a special balance between his deeds on and off the field. Expect that to continue when he reaches the next level.
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