When Vernell broke a bone in his leg against Vanderbilt back in November, his teammates took the injury personally. It had an immediate deflating effect on the team.
"Man, (when he was injured) that hurt me," defensive end Jeremy Mincey recalled. "He is the heart and soul of our team. He brought the leadership. He brought experience. He brought a lot to the table. Seeing a guy like that go down can take a toll on the team."
Brown wouldn't let the injury take a toll on this team, though. That is one of those qualities that has endeared him to anybody who follows the Florida program. Vernell Brown didn't quit. He seemingly understands that there is no value in the action. Even though he was injured, Brown was out there inspiring his fellow teammates through leadership. He made his replacements, freshman corner Avery Atkins and converted wide receiver Reggie Lewis, his personal projects. Watch the FSU game and you'll see Vernell encouraging Avery when he was in the game, coaching him up on the sidelines when Florida's offense had the ball. Watch him with Lewis and he's doing the exact same thing. And the leadership extended beyond football. He was there to speak with them whenever they needed to bounce something off of their chest.
There was no question that the Gators defense missed Brown when he broke his leg against Vanderbilt. The Florida secondary struggled against the Commodores and talented quarterback Jay Cutler. And, who knows what might have happened had Brown been in the Florida secondary when the Gators tripped to Columbia?
He never had any doubt that he would return for the bowl game. His fellow brethren have had no cause to doubt Brown either. He is inspirational as well.
"Tough guy, tough guy," linebacker Brandon Siler said. "It shows that he's a tough guy being that small and playing at this level and playing as well as he does. That shows you right there that he's that tough. When he first got hurt and he says that he's coming back for the bowl game I said…he'll be there."
Brown's importance to the team in Monday's Outback Bowl won't be something readily acquired through the stat sheet. In fact, his importance goes far beyond this game. His impact will be felt by the players on the roster who have witnessed his heart, efforts, and leadership this year.
He continues to have his pulse close to what is happening within the team. And he is not the type to hesitate if he sees anything out of place. What he sees is something that pleases him more than past Florida pre-bowl practice sessions. He visualizes Coach Urban Meyer's desire of hard work, sincerely putting the team before the individual, and "the focus".
"The coaching staff as well as the leadership on the team has done a great job of passing the message that when it's time to work, work, and when it's time to have fun, have fun," Brown stated. "The coaches only ask for three or four hours of focus a day.
"Everybody's doing everything right," he continued. "When it's time to have fun, we're having fun. There's a time to differentiate between those times and the task. Everybody is focusing in the meetings and on the practice field. Those are the times to focus. Everybody is focusing on the task at hand, which is Iowa and the bowl game on Monday."
Brown is especially interested in setting the tone for future Florida teams, a feeling that was echoed by Mincey and others this week. These seniors want to leave a legacy.
"Winning would be a great feeling," Brown said. "Not only just to win this game, send the seniors out with a win, and also get the Florida Gators a bowl win in the past three years. But it would also just be great for the upcoming program to jump start the off season workouts."
His actions also back up his desire to leave this program in better shape at the finish than it has seen over the past few years. Another one of those leadership qualities is to do the things necessary to get back on the field for the love of your teammates and the game. Sometimes you have to go when you're not full speed. Brown's mere presence will serve as an emotional lift for the Florida team on Monday.
"Man, it'll get me hyped just to see him out there," Mincey continued. "I don't care if he doesn't make a play. I just want to see him out there."