WR Brown emerges as threat for Notre Dame
SOUTH BEND — Charlie Patterson’s most vivid memory of Chris Brown’s football career at Hanahan (S.C.) High wasn’t exactly a flattering one.
Brown, currently a junior wide receiver at Notre Dame, somehow ended up with a pair of shoulder pads that were three sizes too big his freshman year in high school. Or maybe it just seemed that way.
“Chris Brown was fast, was long and could jump,” said Patterson, who took over as head coach of the program located just north of Charleston just as Brown’s high school career was commencing. “But man, was he skinny.”
It didn’t take long for Patterson and others to realize Brown was growing into something special, but many thought it would be in track and field as a triple-jumper.
The ND track and field coaching staff actually is still persistently trying to get Brown, also a state long jump champ and runner-up in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, to pull double duty for the Irish.
“Football is my first love,” insisted the two-time South Carolina state champ in his best event and No. 1-rated triple-jumper nationally after his junior year in high school.
And lately football is really starting to love him back. A week and a half into 17th-ranked Notre Dame’s fall training camp, the loudest buzz coming from a deep but largely potential-heavy receiving corps revolves around the 6-foot-2. 195-pound Brown.
He, and not gimpy leading returning receiver DaVaris Daniels (49 catches, 745 yards, 7 TDs), is the toughest matchup in practice currently for ND’s deep reservoir of cornerbacks, though in fairness to Daniels, he has been slowed by a persis-tent groin injury.
“Route-running, releases,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly puffed about the areas of revelation for the heretofore new-and-improved Brown, who comes into the season with a somewhat modest 17 career catches for 265 yards and one career TD.
“He still has to be more consistent in catching the football, but clearly he was our best guy (last) week.”
Brown is leaning on former ND receiver TJ Jones’ template to help that continue. Jones, now a rookie with the Detroit Lions, led the Irish in receptions last season with 70 for 1,108 yards and nine touchdowns, and he finished second, only to Michael Floyd, in career receptions with 181.
“He showed me how to be a savvy, composed receiver,” Brown said of Jones. “I’m not going to say I’d be nervous, but I would think too much.
“He told me to slow the game down and really work on my craft as far as the ins and outs. He really just showed me the way and always how to be a leader. I’m just going to follow what he did and, hopefully, have the same success.”
Most of Brown’s first two seasons at ND consisted of Brown being more of a deep threat than someone who actually produced in those situations. The exception was a 50-yarder he caught from quarterback Everett Golson at Oklahoma in 2012 that helped put away the Sooners in a game that vaulted the Irish into the national championship conversation.
His first real flurry of consistency, though, didn’t come until the final game of the 2013 season, when Brown garnered five of his 17 career catches against Rutgers in a 29-16 Pinstripe Bowl win, Dec. 28 at Yankee Stadium in New York.
“I felt like I was on fire and could catch anything,” Brown said of what he hopes stands as a breakthrough game. “I was just feeling real confident.”
Kelly long had confidence that Brown would ascend to the kind of receiver who could catch fire, even though Rivals.com ranked him as the nation’s 81st-best receiver coming out of high school and a three-star prospect.
Brown did have a long offer list, but one that was dotted with more Middle Tennessee States, Morgan States and East Carolinas than national powers. Perhaps curtailing a more electric recruiting profile was the fact that Brown missed a large chunk of his senior season with a broken collarbone.
“To see where how he’s developed as a person and an athlete from that point is not unexpected,” Patterson said, “but it’s still great to see.”
And he’s not the only one. Sophomore receivers Corey Robinson and Will Fuller have surged. Freshmen Justin Brent and Corey Holmes have had bright moments. And sophomore Torii Hunter Jr., looked like a threat to push for a spot in the rotation before a groin tear pushed his college debut back into September at the earliest. Hunter missed all of 2013 with an unrelated injury.
“We’ve got a lot of extremely talented guys from top to bottom,” Brown said of a group of nine receivers that includes slot guys Amir Carlisle and C.J. Prosise. “We challenge each other every single day.
“I mean, we probably are harder on each other than, I think, the coaches are. But we want to be a great group. We went to bring each other up. So if you have a bunch of guys that want to compete and get better every single day, you’re going to have a good group.”
And for the time being anyway, Brown is the leader of the pack.
“I am my biggest critic,” Brown said. “And whether I have a good day or not, I feel like I have to be that much better every single day. It’s not so much expecting numbers and all those things. I’m just expecting to be someone everybody can count on. If I can do that, everything else will fall into place.”
Eric Hansen: 574-235-6112