The circumstances behind Justin Brown’s arrival at the University of Oklahoma have been well documented.
The Penn State University football program was devastated after former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was convicted of multiple crimes involving child molestation charges. The football program ended up being hit with enough sanctions to make Al Capone blush.
Brown was left to pick up the pieces, as he tried to find what appeared to be greener pastures.
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Oklahoma was a program interested in Brown’s talents, and they courted the senior wide receiver through those difficult circumstances.
“I don’t think there’s a right way to do it,” said Bob Stoops of OU’s recruitment of Brown during the controversy surrounding Penn State. “Whether you’re doing it in front of everybody or if you make it known you want to do it then everyone is pressuring the kid and you can’t make a legitimate decision.”
SCOOPHD: JUSTIN BROWN SEASON HIGHLIGHTS
Stoops didn’t show up with his coaches in Happy Valley trying to poach players off the Penn State roster. But for a man who has always been concerned with the integrity of the coaching profession, pursuing Brown wasn’t the easiest of choices.
“There’s all kinds of things to consider,” said Stoops of the pursuit of Brown. “The bottom line is he’s not the one who made the situation what it was.”
As Stoops is famous for saying, “in the end” Brown ended up a Sooner, even if just for one year.
It was a decision that paid dividends for Brown and Oklahoma in 2012.
“Justin has been absolutely fantastic. He’s a young man that, even today, I’m sure it’s still difficult for him,” said Stoops. “He’s really embraced it. He’s had a great, great year. He’s an incredibly mature and sharp young man. He’s gonna have a bright future after here.”
Saturday will be senior day at Oklahoma. It’s a time for players to be honored for their time and contributions to Oklahoma football.
Most of these seniors have been through football wars together. They’ve battled strength and condition coach Jerry Schmidt through intense and grueling winters and summers. They’ve fought their way up the depth chart. They’ve endured hardship.
They’ve earned this distinction while plenty of their classmates failed to endure to trials of a college football career.
Saturday afternoon, Brown will have another first as a Sooner. He’ll be honored along with those seniors. The Penn State football player who became an Oklahoma Sooner overnight, Brown will take his place among the OU elite.
“I’m really just going to focus on the game other than the story,” said Brown this week. “As far as it being strange, I’m not going to be worried about that. I’m going to be worried about the game.”
For everything Brown has been through over the last 12 months, the game of football has held enduring solace.
Brown’s season at Oklahoma has helped him set a new standard as a college receiver. Through just 10 games, Brown’s 47 catches for 649 yards and four touchdowns have dwarfed his previous totals at Penn State.
In 13 games as a junior at Penn State, Brown caught just 35 catches for 517 yards and two touchdowns.
Brown has already caught more touchdown passes this season at Oklahoma than he did his entire Penn State career.
He’s also improved on his 2011 punt return yardage by returning 19 punts for 308 yards and a touchdown in 2012 (Brown had 27 returns for 220 yards and zerotouchdowns in 2011 at Penn State).
EXPERIENCE WINS OUT
OU wide receivers coach Jay Norvell brought in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class at the wide receiver position last season.
Then he added Brown just before the start of fall camp.
Of all those highly rated recruiting targets, Brown has been more productive than all of them. He’s been a major sparkplug for an OU offense rated as the No. 11 offense in the country, as well as the nation’s No. 8 passing offense.
Before the start of the 2012 season, freshmen sensation, and former Rivals.com 5-star recruit, Trey Metoyer was the player getting all the attention.
Brown emerged instantly for the OU offense and has become the second leading receiver for Landry Jones this season.
He's actually logged 30 more catches and over 500 more yards than Metoyer this season.
For a receiving unit expected to have growing pains at the start of the season, Brown has been a steadying influence among the corps, and a player who has allowed Jones to re-emerge as one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in 2012.
“I can’t say enough about Justin and what he’s done and how he’s just come in here and worked hard and been humble and didn’t really pout or whine about his situation,” said Jones. “He Just wanted to come and play football and compete for championships. You can’t say enough about him.
“The thing that happened at Penn state, yes it was very unfortunate but it wasn’t all on Justin. It wasn’t any of the players. He just wanted to come here and compete. I do understand how for me if that happened here and I had to go somewhere else, it would be tough. He’s come in here and hes’ worked hard. You can’t say enough about him and his character and how he handled this.”
Brown has to be given credit for his ability to adapt and overcome a new offensive system. It’s not like Penn State was lighting the world on fire with their offensive passing game over the years.
Unlike some junior college transfers, Brown picked things up immediately, made an instant impact, and reinvigorated a receiving corps returning just one starter, Kenny Stills, with a catch in an OU football game.
“That’s a credit to him,” said Norvell of Brown’s quick transition to OU’s offense. “I have to say this, he’s one of the best guys preparing to play that I’ve ever been around. He’s a meticulous note taker. I’m going to give his notebook to Trey Metoyer when he leaves because he takes meticulous notes about every defense and every guy he’s played against and the guys that work the hardest and prepare the hardest, they improve faster.
“Justin’s certainly done that and that’s a credit to him.”
JUSTIN BROWN’S LEGACY
Fans have asked a lot of questions about Brown this season. Most notably, fans want to know how Brown feels about Oklahoma, and how Oklahoma feels about him.
Norvell alluded to one of the things Brown will leave behind after the 2012 season as proof of his impact beyond just this season. He’s started a new tradition with his maturity and focus by crafting one of the most impressive notebooks Norvell has ever seen.
Brown writes down everything.
“Everything,” answered Brown when asked what he writes down in his notebook. “From new plays to defensive back tendencies to notes about a certain play, what I’ve got to work on from what I did, what I messed up on film, what I’ve got to work on the next day. It’s just little notes and every little thing.”
Brown’s notebook is crimson. It’s the same notebook every OU player receives when they start a season at Oklahoma.
It’s just that Brown uses every sheet he can to write down information he thinks will make him a better receiver.
“I use the front and back (of each page),” says Brown. “It gets pretty filled up.”
Brown’s meticulous note taking started because of something he heard about one of the all-time greats.
“Somebody told me Peyton Manning would fill an entire notebook up for a whole game,” explained Brown. “I guess that’s just how I’ve done it. I’ve always tried to take great notes. Coaches have always told me the people who take the best notes and have studied well - it transfers over to the field. I’m basically always trying to take notes and watch film.”
As important and as perfect as Ryan Broyles could be as a receiver, he wasn’t a big note taker during the season according to Norvell. Brown will leave that part of his preparation as a legacy for younger players.
“He’s probably the greatest example of (notebook study),” said Norvell. “We talk a lot about it in preseason and we had so many new guys and I think he’ll leave that impact with the younger players.”
BACK TO SENIOR DAY
Brown has always shied away from making comparisons between Oklahoma and Penn State since he arrived in Norman.
Part of it is just staying out of the crosshairs of a fanbase already dealing with tragedy and heartbreak. But a bigger part of it, is Brown’s loyalty to his family (teammates) back home in Pennsylvania.
You truly get the sense Brown wanted things to work out at Penn State.
His detour through Oklahoma was never his first choice.
A talk with Stoops before the season also kept Brown from making too much of comparisons between his home in Oklahoma and his past life in Happy Valley.
“I told him early on, don’t ever get in the comparison game because it never comes out right,” said Stoops. “One way or another, it’s gonna sound wrong, so why do it.
“In the end, he’s loves his teammates back there and the teams he was on. I think the unknown really bothered him there and what was gonna happen. He knew the situation here could be positive and I think it has been. He’s just stayed away from it as he should.”
But Saturday afternoon, as Brown is being introduced on senior day, you have to think a part of him will be with his family at Penn State.
Brown wasn’t ready to confront those mixed feelings Tuesday when asked about the conflict he might feel.
“I’ll just have to tackle those (feelings) as they come,” said Brown. “I’m not going to be anticipating it or thinking about it too much. I’m going to try and focus on the game and what I can do. I’m not going to be trying to compare or think about things that aren’t going to help us win the game.”
And how should Sooner fans react to Brown? Is he a journeyman who made his way through Oklahoma as a way to better himself and his football career?
Or is he one of the best examples of what being a Sooner could be?
A player who made the most out of a tough situation and perservered through the turmoil?
Take the West Virginia game as an example of Brown's commitment.
He took a devastating shot from behind against the Mountaineers last weekend. Brown left the game temporarily, but came back quickly. His 36-yard reception in the Sooners’ final drive took OU down to the WVU 12-yard line and setup the go-ahead touchdown pass from Jones to Kenny Stills.
Brown’s given all he can to Oklahoma this season.
Oklahoma’s given all they can to make sure his final college season could be all it could be.
“You guys get to see his talent level on the football field,” said junior captain Gabe Ikard. “What a pickup for us in the offseason after what that program went through and the tough decision he had to make.
“I know the fans will make him feel appreciated and loved just because when it comes down to it he’s a member of the Oklahoma football family, whether it was just for a year or not. I’m sure he’ll be remembered for some of those punt returns and catches. I’m sure it will be a little odd for him but I’m hoping we’ll make him feel welcomed.”