Thursday, August 02, 2012

From star to long-shot, Eagles' Brown strives to make impression

Eagles rookie RB Bryce Brown
By John McMullen
jmcmullen@phanaticmag.com

BETHLEHEM, Pa (The Phanatic Magazine) - Bryce Brown has always been special.

A blur in high school who once clocked a 4.32 40-yard dash, the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Wichita East product rushed for an amazing 1,472 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman before trumping that with an encore of 2,039 yards and 26 TDs in his sophomore campaign.

That's when the offers came piling in. More than 50 in fact as Brown was named the EA Sports National Sophomore of the Year.

The hype machine hardly slowed from there after a 1,825-yard season convicted USA Today to tab Brown as the only junior on its annual Prep All-American Team. By the end of his senior season in high school Brown has amassed 7,209 rushing yards, was named to the USA Today All-USA First Team for the second consecutive time and was considered the best running back prospect coming out of Kansas since Barry Sanders.

His downfall or at least the start of it can probably be traced to an unscrupulous hanger-on named Brian Butler, who described himself as Brown's trainer and handler through the college recruiting process.

Looking to cash in on Brown's enormous athletic talent, Butler sold updates of Brown's recruitment on a website, charging $9.99 a month or $59 a year. Naturally that caught the eye of the NCAA, whose amateurism certification staff launched an investigation to determine whether anything had been done
to jeopardize Brown's amateur status.

In a rare moment of clarity, the NCAA eventually cleared Brown to play and the speedster orally committed to joining his brother Arthur at the University of Miami.

Brown never did not sign a letter of intent, however, and again sought the limelight by setting up a press conference on National Signing Day in 2009, naming Miami and five other schools as "finalists:"  LSU, Tennessee, Oregon, USC, and Kansas State.

"If I was Randy Shannon and the Miami staff, I would tell the kid and Brian Butler to go jump in a lake," ESPN recruiting guru Tom Luginbill said at the time. "I got to imagine that deep down, Miami's coaches have to be thinking, 'This is getting ridiculous.'"

Miami did in fact bail on Brown, Butler and the games forcing the star to shift gears toward the SEC and Tennessee. Things changed at Rocky Top and Brown wasn't the guy from the get go, spending his rookie campaign at the school as backup to senior Montario Hardesty.

Whether it was a lack of maturity or just a case of homesickness, Brown announced his decision to leave the program on the first day of Tennessee's 2010 spring practice. He and his brother Arthur were moving to Kansas State.

You can make the requisite Dorothy reference here and talk about there being no place like home but both Brown brothers got caught up in the Nevin Shapiro scandal, accused of receiving impermissible benefits from the ex-booster.

In what has become a troubling pattern in Brown's life, he turned tail and left the Wildcats football team "at least temporarily," before entering the 2012 NFL Draft as an early entry.

By April the bloom was off the rose and Brown was no longer a can't miss prospect, downgraded as much for his off the field exploits as anything else.

Through it all, however, the incredible physical gifts remained and Brown was going to be given a chance by someone, somewhere. That someone turned out to be the Philadelphia Eagles, who drafted Brown in the seventh round with the 229th overall pick.

"We took a chance here with Bryce Brown," Philadelphia coach Andy Reid said. "He’s had kind of a wild ride here through college football since being the number one running back coming out of high school into college. You're talking about a kid who is an inch under six foot and is 220 pounds who runs a 4.4
forty. You're talking tremendous, tremendous skill here."

It's hard to believe there were 228 better football players that Brown but there were probably were that many better fits. In a league where personal behavior is a problem, red flags are taken very seriously and likely took Brown totally off a number of team's draft boards.

"No excuses here," Reid continued. "What we saw there was talent."

These days Brown is no longer the big man on campus. The media assembled in Lehigh is barely interested in him and he's often an afterthought on a team which possess one of the better running back in all of the NFL, LeSean McCoy. In fact, the "rook" is nothing more than another camp body among 90, one
trying to stand out.

"I'm getting there," Brown said. "I wouldn't say that I've got it all but it’s a learning process. The reps matter. The reps count. The more I do it the more I get comfortable with it."

One of the hardest things about the NFL for "stars" at the high school or college level is the realization that special teams is likely the ticket to a job, something most have very little experience at.

"I'm on all of them (special teams units) right now," Brown said. "This is actually my first time doing any special teams so all that is new to me. It is kind of like a new language but it’s more knowledge that I can add to my toolbox.

"I am really trying to hone in on the detail. If I can contribute any way that I can I would love to be a part of that."

Making things easier for Brown is fellow rookie runner Chris Polk, another former top prospect who went undrafted out of Washington due to concerns over a potentially degenerative shoulder condition.

"I root for him," Brown said of Polk. "I am so happy because we are both coming here at the same time. We are both pushing each other and we both help each other out. To see him go in there and do a good job makes me feel good too."
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