Notre Dame WR Chris Brown serves as heart of receiver corps

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

A year ago, Chris Brown wouldn’t have taken the microphone.

Because a year ago, he was a different player, with a different role. Back then, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound wide receiver was just another talented pair of hands vying for available targets. He had enjoyed a limited degree of success at Notre Dame, catching 17 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown in his first two seasons.

But when senior DaVaris Daniels was suspended for academic reasons prior to the beginning of the 2014 season, it occurred to Brown that he was the oldest player in an exceedingly young room.

It was time for him to act like it.

“Last year, I was a junior but I was the oldest in the (wide receivers) room, so I felt like I should take on a leadership role, and a lot of the guys followed,” Brown said Wednesday. “I felt like I had to evolve with that this offseason and continue to just become more consistent. That way I can show that I’m doing it off the field, on the field, in the meeting rooms and wherever else.”

Brown produced perhaps his finest performance last weekend, stacking up a career-high eight catches and serving as a soothing influence for first-time starting quarterback DeShone Kizer.

He wasn’t extraordinary, but he was dependable. And what he had to give, he gave.

“Obviously he made some big catches for us, big third down conversions,” head coach Brian Kelly said. “He's a gamer. He's a kid that gives everything he has. He's not as smooth as a Will Fuller. He's probably not as talented as a Torii Hunter. Doesn't have the size of a Corey Robinson, but boy, he's got a huge heart.

“He gives you everything he has, and that's what you love about him.”

Since assuming a more significant role in his junior season, Brown has also given leadership — to wide receivers and quarterbacks, to anyone that needs it. His career has produced both dizzying peaks and devastating valleys, and that range of experience has made him relatable to star players and scuffling afterthoughts alike.

“It definitely made me stronger and the person that I am now, just because you don’t know when the ball is going to come your way,” Brown said of the rampant inconsistency early in his career. “You had to be ready and you had to take advantage of every opportunity you can.

“When you’ve been through a little struggle of knowing the highs and the lows, you can coach other players that are either on the high part or on the low part. I feel like that has helped me with being a leader as well.”

Last weekend, Brown was tasked with helping Kizer lead — with easing a young quarterback into a searing national spotlight. He communicated coverages and walked him through his reads. In between each series, Kizer first met with Kelly, then consulted “Breezy.”

“He's been there and done that, and he's experienced more than most of us have experienced,” Kizer said. “To have that guy play with comfort and look in your eyes and tell you things are going to be all right when it comes to close situations, there's no better person to have on your team.”

Kelly acknowledged that fact prior to the season, when he asked Brown to take the microphone during the team’s Texas pep rally on Sept. 4.

Brown, of course, accepted — and that shows how far he’s come.

“Me and (senior safety) Elijah Shumate used to talk about it all the time,” Brown said. “We didn’t want to do it when we were juniors and sophomores.

“But being my last first game, when he told me, I was ready. I figured I’d try and give it everything that I had.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame's Chris Brown (2) and Will Fuller (7) celebrate a fourth quarter touchdown during the second half of the Notre Dame Texas game, Saturday, September 5, 2015 in South Bend. SBT Photo / BECKY MALEWITZ