One On One With Mike Brown

When Duke offered a scholarship to an unknown linebacker from Texas, many Duke fans wondered if Mike Brown was worth taking a chance on. A year later the wisdom of that decision is impossible to overlook as Brown was one of the top freshmen in the nation in 2005. TDD sat down with Mike recently for a recap of the last year and his first season of college football.

TDD: You had a pretty incredible season, going from one of the last signees of the class to a Freshman All-American. What's it's been like?

Mike Brown: Well no matter when I came, early or late I knew what I could do at this level. It makes it that much sweeter since no one wanted me even when I knew my potential. I'm going to continue to work hard so I can have three more good years here.

Playing middle linebacker is a lot like being a quarterback on the defensive side of the ball. How hard was it to pick things up?

The major thing was I had to learn quickly. Learn the playbook, learn audibles, learn how to make checks, all that. It was hard at first, but I had good players around me and that helped me prepare. In the preseason I met with the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach every night after practice to learn as much as I could.

Can you point to one instance when your class took that step forward and "arrived" at the collegiate level?

I think the Georgia Tech game. A lot of freshman got a chance to play and really played well after that. Zack [Asack] and Eron [Riley] really did. Against Florida State the true freshmen were playing against one of the best teams in the league and playing a lot. That's going to help our development next year. We'll all have that experience and you'll see more and more of our class starting to earn more playing time.

Speaking of next year, what's it going to mean to get some of those guys who were injured and/or redshirting back?

It's going to be big. We'll have Ayanga [Okpokwuruk], Vince [Oghobaase], Eli [Nichols], and Casey [Camero] on the defensive line all at full strength with the guys who are already there. We're also going to have a really strong group of linebackers. In the secondary we'll have Jabari Marshall back along with John Talley and DeOnto McCormick. Glenn Williams also got some time in there. The whole defense is starting to really gel as one and the goal is for us to dominate opponents.

That's a big change from the things we've heard in the past as far as attitude. Has that changed since you got here?

The biggest thing we needed to change was the attitudes and the vibe around the program. It was not what it should be and people were getting used to that. The freshmen came from winning high school programs. We need that winning attitude here. None of us like losing, and this year really hurt. We've got a fire in us, along with some of the older guys to not let that happen.

Duke has a lot more talent coming in and we need to keep working hard to take that talent and have the right attitude so we can improve. That means changing the attitude in the weight room and on the track.

What do you mean changing the attitude in the weight room?

Guys need to be intense when we're there. When I got here it was kind of dead when we were in there. Now we get guys fired up to go lift. We go strong. We push each other. Whether people believe it or not, your attitude has to be like that in everything you do so it can transfer to the field.

Coach Roof has called you one of the leaders of the team. How does he reiterate that point to you away from the public spotlight?

He's called me into his office with other players and reiterates that he wants you to keep your attitude positive and to work hard. Look, we had a horrible year. It's easy to say things haven't changed. But they have. We learned valuable lessons, but we are not going to get used to losing here like they have in the past. If we get used to it we're going to stop working hard, and that's going to lead to more losses. I call it the "New Duke".

Still, you guys have got to mesh with those players who could have gotten bogged down with the losing.

You've got to respect the older players. We are not taking over or anything. We try and lead by example. If something needs to be said to someone then there is a way to say it and a way to do those kinds of things. If someone isn't working, you push them. You say "come with me" when you're going to the weight room or to the track to work out. Your enthusiasm for what you are doing is contagious.

One thing people really missed out on was seeing your buddy, Vince Oghobaase, on the field this year. What can people expect from him next season?

I've known Vince since the 5th grade. We played Pop Warner football together, then we played together in middle school, but against each other in high school, and now we're back together in college.

All people really know about right now is the hype, and that's all it is for now. But Vince is a new level of football player for Duke. He'll be out there and will make a lot of plays for us. He's ready to go. Even this year he was ready – on the sidelines he was just showing his support and doing everything he could.

Now he's finally ready to get back on the field. He's a new level of defensive lineman and he's really going to open things up for the linebackers and the other linemen too. He's going to make our defense better all around.

Switching gears, you've hosted a number of big time recruiting prospects since you've been here. How do you handle that?

I research the guys I'm going to be hosting as much as I can to find out what kind of player and person they are. I know we need to keep brining in better and better players and when I host them I tell them exactly what they can be part of here. I'm straight with them about what they can expect and what will be expected of them.

What is that?

I mean look at my accolades. I went from one of the last guys taken to an All-American in my first year. It can be done, it's just a matter of how hard you are going to work. If you want to come in and make a name for yourself you can do that here. If you go to a more established school then you're going to be a name on a roster. Come here, you've got a chance to build something. If you're looking for that kind of thing and a great

When I interviewed you after signing day last year, you said how much you would benefit from a Duke education. Has that been the case?

Oh yeah. The alumni base is just amazing. It's been everything I expected and more. I met the head of sales for IBM, the CEO of one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world, and other big time people. Being at Duke has allowed me to make so many contacts outside of football – that's important for life after I've finished playing.

The education is just amazing. I now feel like I can hold an intellectual conversation with anyone, no matter where they are in life. There are so many benefits outside of football with Duke and coming here gives me a chance to play at the highest level and get that kind of education – I'm killing two birds with one stone.

Finally, if I asked you for a theme for next year's team, what would it be?

We're going to shock the world.

Brown was named to Scout.com's Freshman All-American First Team on December 14th. He started last 10 games, made 92 tackles, ten tackles for loss, one sack, and three forced fumbles for the Blue Devils as a true freshman.


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