WR Chris Brown excels in selfless role for Notre Dame

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Chris Brown blocks for his brothers.

Granted, that might not look like a natural role. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound wide receiver is a bony blazer, all arms and legs with little muscle in between. While some players are built like snow plows, Brown is more like a street pole.

And yet, there he was.

With five minutes and three seconds remaining in the second quarter on Saturday and Notre Dame entrenched in a 10-7 hole, sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer took the snap, faked a handoff to running back C.J. Prosise and burst around the edge.

What he found, in terms of sheer opposition, was nothing.

With Brown sealing off defensive back Sean Chandler on the second level, the 230-pound Kizer accelerated into the open field, rumbling 79 yards to paydirt — and surprising even himself.

“I've run a zone-read offense since I was in seventh grade,” Kizer explained. “Once you get around the edge, you break the contain. You normally get about 25 yards, someone hawks you down from behind, takes out your legs.”

Not this time. This time, Kizer wasn’t touched. He scooted into the end zone, dropped the football and pumped his fist.

All the while, Brown trailed him like a shadow.

“I was thinking about whether or not to chase him, to try and catch him,” joked Brown, who was the first Irish player to celebrate with Kizer. “But I was just following him, making sure he scored.”

In front of Kizer’s touchdown run, and Prosise’s countless flourishes in Notre Dame’s 7-1 start, the Irish wide receivers have been there, quietly paving the way. Brown serves as the unit’s backbone, a tireless blocker despite his fragile frame.

“I don't think there's been a more dedicated and hard-working player at the wide receiver position than Chris,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “All those guys work hard. Chris has always been that leader. He kind of took that leadership role this summer — blocking, doing all the little things, and obviously catching a lot of balls.

“He's a tough, gritty, competitive kid. He sets the standard for all those younger players (to look) at what their role is as a wide receiver. It's not just catching the football. I think by and large all of those guys are committed to being more than just a one-dimensional player — that is, running and catching. They know how important it is.

“Torii Hunter's 41-yard run late in the third quarter was an indication of Amir Carlisle and Will Fuller blocking on the perimeter. When you throw perimeter passes and you get gains, I think that's an indication of what the receivers are doing relative to blocking.”

Brown’s senior season is shaping up to be his best, as the Hanahan, S.C., native sits second on the team with 33 catches, 427 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

And yet, at a position where prima donnas run rampant, Brown acknowledges the bigger picture.

“If you love the game, you’ll love every part of it,” Brown said. “You know what I mean? Blocking is a part of the game as a receiver, and so is catching. You have to love them both.”

Through eight games, it’s been easy to love the result — especially if you’re Kizer, a capable runner with an open road.

“The ball is not coming your way, but if you think about it, it’s going to your brother,” Brown said of his mindset as a blocker.

“Would you want that (defender) to get a free hit on him? No, obviously. So you can’t take a play off.”


Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame's Chris Brown (2) tries to break loose from University of Massachusetts defenders Jovan Santos-Knox (17) and Joe Colton (25) during the second quarter of the Fighting Irish's game against the University of Massachusetts, Saturday, September 26, 2015 in South Bend. SBT Photo/ Becky Malewitz