Jeremy Brown stopped for a moment on the turf at Tiger Stadium on Saturday to look around and take it all in — the crowd of more than 90,000 that filled the stands for North Texas’ game against LSU, the noise and everything that goes along with playing a Southeastern Conference power.
A moment was all the time he could afford that night or on any other while following his meandering path through football, one that began in a tiny North Texas town and included a short stop at a West Texas college before finally reaching what will soon be its conclusion at UNT.
Conventional wisdom in college football dictates that Brown shouldn’t have been on the field at all, and certainly shouldn’t have ripped off an 11-yard run against a team that lost to Alabama in last season’s national championship game.
Players who are 5-8 and 183 pounds aren’t supposed to grind out yards against the third-ranked team in the country. Neither are players who arrive as walk-ons at Football Bowl Subdivision schools late in their careers.
Brown is making an impact for UNT anyway.
“I loved it because there were so many people in the crowd,” Brown said. “The game really was no different. They are football players just like me. It wasn’t overwhelming or anything. I like playing in front of a big crowd because, being from a small school, I’m not used to it.”
There are plenty of aspects of being a scholarship player at the major-college level that Brown isn’t used to, starting with a feeling of security.
The running back had to scratch and fight to earn a scholarship and a spot in a three-player rotation with veteran Brandin Byrd and highly regarded redshirt freshman Antoinne Jimmerson.
Brown knows from experience that he will have to keep fighting to hold on to that spot in the final year of a college career that essentially is just getting started.
Brown played sparingly last year and has just 11 games left in his career, starting with the Mean Green’s home opener Saturday against Texas Southern at Apogee Stadium.
“I never think I’ve arrived,” Brown said. “That’s part of being a short guy. I play with a chip on my shoulder.”
Brown plans to squeeze a lifetime of memories out of the handful of games he has left with his family — especially his mother, Beverly Brown — watching from the stands.
Beverly Brown scraped together every spare dollar she had for a year to be able to afford seeing her son play at LSU.
UNT’s players and coaches have watched others fail to capitalize on their opportunities and couldn’t be happier for Brown, whom they describe as a quiet and well-liked player.
“He’s a bright young man with high character,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said. “He’s an unselfish player who cares about this program and has given a lot to it. It’s neat when you go to practice and there are 150 people on the field — with coaches, players and trainers — and they all respect J. Brown for the person and player he is.”
Tapping into his potential
Chuck Lipsey knew that Brown would be his star running back someday. Lipsey was the head coach at Whitewright, the only school in a town of 1,610 people about 20 miles southeast of Sherman, when Brown played for the Tigers.
But Lipsey expected Brown would have to wait his turn while Karrington Bush, who went on to star for Texas State, finished his career.
Brown played slot receiver until receiving his break as a junior. Lipsey shifted Brown to running back for Whitewright’s final district game against Leonard after Bush went down with a high ankle sprain.
Brown scored seven touchdowns in his first start at running back.
“For Class 2A, Jeremy was extremely fast and ran the ball well,” Lipsey said. “He had two 99-yard runs when he was a senior.”
A few college coaches took a look at Brown because of how productive he was at Whitewright, but they were not interested because of his size.
“Jeremy was probably only 5-7,” Lipsey said. “He was well-built. People just didn’t think he was big enough.”
Lipsey said he helped steer Brown to Abilene Christian, a Division II school where he spent just a few months before living that far away from his family started to weigh on him.
“I was five hours away from my family and really missed my mom, my dad, my brother and my nephews,” Brown said. “It was too long a drive to come home and I always had to practice. Mostly I came back for my family.”
Brown walked on at UNT in the spring of 2010 and quickly caught the eyes of the Mean Green’s coaches and players.
“He just kind of showed up,” UNT quarterback Derek Thompson said. “You look around in those walk-on tryouts and you never know who is going to come out of it.”
Brown quickly showed that he would be one of the players from those tryouts to earn a roster spot. He was given a chance to join the team and continued to rise through the ranks of UNT’s running backs.
“You’d see him in a scrimmage with three guys around him,” Thompson said. “They’d all dive at him and somehow miss. I don’t know how he does it.”
Taking advantage of precious time
Beverly Brown attributes her son’s unlikely rise to a playing role at UNT to his determination and their faith that his dreams would come to fruition.
The family struggled to pay for Jeremy Brown’s expenses when he first arrived at UNT. Beverly Brown said she took out a series of loans to make sure her son could stay in school and pursue his dream of playing for the Mean Green, a team he followed through the years.
“I always liked North Texas,” Brown said. “I knew about the program and its history and the great running backs they have always had there.”
Brown may never be remembered as one of the top players in a line of running backs that includes Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Famer Abner Haynes and national rushing champions Patrick Cobbs and Jamario Thomas, but he should contribute.
“He’s a tough runner and an athletic kid,” UNT center Aaron Fortenberry said. “It’s great to block for him and see him take off down the field.”
Brown is one of the fastest players on the team and has a friendly running argument with wide receiver Brelan Chancellor over who is faster.
“He says he’s faster than me, but I say I’m faster,” Chancellor said. “We haven’t raced yet to see who’s right.”
That banter is just one sign that Brown has found a home.
“He’s pretty quiet,” Fortenberry said. “He will joke around now and then, but mostly he keeps to himself.”
No one has enjoyed seeing Brown find a home more than his mother.
Brown carried the ball just five times last season while Lance Dunbar, UNT’s all-time leading rusher, and James Hamilton finished their careers.
Beverly Brown said she knew her son would play more this year and started planning early so that she could attend his first game this season at LSU.
“I’m a paycheck-to-paycheck person,” said Beverly Brown, who is an admissions clerk at a medical center in McKinney. “I thought that if I put back a few dollars at a time, I would be able to go.”
When Jeremy Brown walked out onto the field, his mother was there.
“It was wonderful,” Beverly Brown said. “There were a lot of LSU fans, but I had my green shirt on and was in the front row.”
Jeremy Brown rushed for 20 yards on eight carries in the 41-14 loss. Statistically, Brown’s performance was nothing but a footnote in a tough season opener for UNT.
For Brown, it was the first night in a season when he expects to live out his dream of being a key contributor at the highest level of college football.
The story is one that has inspired Brown’s teammates and those closest to him, including his mother.
“I’m going back to school,” said Beverly Brown, who hopes to move into a management position in the medical field. “He’s motivated me.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .