Aug. 29, 1999
by Tim Welsh
Leaders are important for a football team.
Many of the strongest leaders go through rough maturation periods before they have their chance to lead their team to victory.
Notre Dame senior split end Bobby Brown has put in his time maturing his leadership skills and this is his year to lead.
Growing up in Lauderhill, Fla., the youngest of five children, Brown learned an appreciation for academics and respect for religion.
“My mom is in academia, so she always preached academics to me,” says Brown. “Somewhere along the line I caught wind of it and kept it in my pocket.”
Brown’s mother also preached a deep faith in God that he still carries onto the football field today. “My mother is always reminding me how she brought me up in the church and not to forget those qualities no matter where you are on the field or in church.”
Brown is also quite close to his siblings and hopes to start a law firm with one of his brothers after he finishes his schooling.
While in high school, Brown excelled in several areas. A star in football, track, and basketball, Brown also maintained better than a 3.7 grade-point average. With recruiters around the country contending for this three-sport star, Brown chose Notre Dame. The school has just the kind of athletes Brown wanted to associate with student-athletes.
“Here, there are, sincerely, student athletes all over the field,” says Brown. “I am in the huddle with student-athletes guys that care about more than just football.”
Coming into Notre Dame as part of one of the best recruiting class in the country, the young and confident Brown expected to make in impact on the Irish squad right away, despite several veteran wide receivers already on the team.
“I definitely felt like I was a part of what made that class a No. 1 class,” says Brown. “I had an excellent camp. It seemed as if I would contribute right away.”
With guys the likes of Emmett Mosley and Derrick Mayes taking the starting receiving positions, Brown did not play at all in his freshman season of ’95.
In his sophomore season, Brown would again have trouble securing a position at wide receiver. He played in nine games, but only totaled two receptions as a back-up wide receiver.
Brown made many calls home that season.
He received sympathy from his mother and sound advice from his brother, Terry, who played football at Columbia.
Brown’s brother seemed to have the solution: work harder.
Brown did just that, working “three, four times harder than I had ever worked before.”
“I wanted to become the player I knew I could be,” says Brown. “That meant becoming a leader. Every day I just went out with the attitude that it was time to play ball.”
Brown joined the indoor track and field team in his the winter of his freshman year and that started to mature him as he regained his confidence as part of coach Joe Piane’s squad.
Brown was fifth at the ’97 BIG EAST indoor championship in the 400 meters and then set a school record at the ’98 BIG EAST event in the 400 at 48.19 seconds, good enough for second place.
With a new attitude and an even stronger work ethic, Brown came into the 1997 football season a completely different player.
All of a sudden, Brown was catching anything and everything on his side of the field. A desire to get the ball at all costs helped propel Brown from a backup wide receiver the year before to the leading receiver for the Irish. Brown caught 45 passes in ’97 ? seven in each of his first three games. He led the receivers in scoring with six touchdowns as Notre Dame’s big-play threat.
Brown was finally reaching his potential, but he still had to wait for his chance.
Partly due to an injured wrist, Brown would have only five receptions through the first six games of the ’98 season. In all, he made 13 receptions for 286 yards and one touchdowns. He knew the coaches and players had confidence in him, but he just was not getting the ball.
Brown became frustrated, but he was patient. He worked even harder in practice
“I just hoped to get him the football to reward him for how hard he practiced and how hard he played,” says Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie.
Brown became the best blocker of the receivers in order to contribute any way he could.
“It was hard, but I bounced back,” Brown says reflecting on last season, “It is all a part of becoming a man and a better football player.”
Last season was frustrating for Brown ? finally getting back his confidence and then not getting the football, but he believes that this season will be different.
It has been a long road to maturity for Brown and now he is ready for his moment to shine.
“I will definitely be looking to get more involved early this season,” says Brown, “I want to bury that thing that haunted me last season.”
Brown no longer feels like a victim when the ball is thrown at him, but instead longs for it.
“It’s another part of maturity,” says Brown. “I learned not to be scared of that moment when everything else is obsolete and everything is quiet and it is just you and the ball and your only responsibility is to catch the ball. Now, I actually anticipate it and through anticipation I become a better receiver.”
Along with expecting the ball, Brown also learned to take coaching.
Assistant coach Urban Meyer, who works with the receivers, has became the most influential person at Notre Dame for Brown.
“I learned to listen not to how he was saying things, but to what he was saying,” says Brown.
“Once I learned that, I realized that he is a brilliant coach.”
Brown has earned Meyer’s respect as well.
“You coach football for guys like Bobby Brown,” says Meyer. “He is there every day. His work ethic is great. He is a good person and a great player.”
Because of his hard-earned confidence, skill, and work ethic, Brown has become a leader on the Irish team. Brown tries to have an influence on the younger receivers the same way Mosley, Cikai Champion and Mayes influenced him.
“I stay on them pretty hard,” says Brown, “whether just joking with them about their clothes or helping their fundamentals on the field. I take pride in making sure everybody is ready to play each time they step on the field.”
“Bobby Brown is a leader on this football team, but not just on the field,” says Davie
Brown is very active in the Notre Dame Life Skills Program and visits area elementary schools, hoping to inspire young children.
“I just want to let them know that any kid, no matter their socio-economic background, no matter their family background, they can be here at Notre Dame too,” says Brown. “Somewhere in your life you have to flip a switch and say ‘OK, I am determined and that is the road I am going to take.'”
Brown flipped his own switch and it has lead him down a long road of hard work, through frustration and maturation, to become a premier receiver for the Irish and a team leader.
This season he will show just how far his road of determination has taken him.