Reggie Brown - Living up to the Promise

CARROLLTON - It's a wonder every ball Reggie Brown dropped over the last three seasons at Georgia didn't leave a two-foot dent.

The ball doesn't weigh that much really, 14.4 ounces right out of the box, but when it's carrying the expectations of thousands in this West Georgia town, it can seem so much heavier.

Reggie Brown was ranked by the team that was TheInsiders.com as the #2 wide receiver in the country. He also was a spectacular track athlete.

"Bless his heart, you can't imagine the number of (recruiting) calls he had," said Randy Padgett, who was the offensive coordinator at Carrollton during Brown's heyday and is now the head coach down the road at Central of Carrollton. "There was so much excitement when Reggie signed with Georgia."

Carrollton is a town of almost 20,000 just south of Interstate 20 not long before the Alabama line. Thanks in part to the four teams Brown starred on, it has become known for its football in a part of the state not known for much of anything, really.

It was important to many here that Reggie Brown spread the message of Carrollton football on a larger stage, and, therefore, it was important to Reggie Brown.

"What other people think about him is important to him," Padgett said. "You want to make the people who you've come up with proud," Brown said. "I was worried about what people would think if I didn't meet all the expectations. I put way too much pressure on myself to do it right away."

It looked like it might not come at all when Brown failed a high school English class, making him ineligible to enroll at Georgia in the fall of 1999 and leaving him feeling like he'd disappointed people before he even left town.

Brown retook the English class the next fall and passed, but as he was preparing to enroll at Georgia for the winter semester, Carrollton coach Ben Scott died of cancer, shaking the whole town and Brown in particular.

"Coach Scott was such a big supporter of him," Padgett said.

The challenges didn't end when Brown began his career at Georgia. He caught four passes for 56 yards in the first game of his freshman season, but he only caught nine passes the rest of the season.

The next year, he tore his ACL in the third game, ending his season and keeping him out of the bulk of spring practice for the 2002 season. The coaching staff lauded Brown for his preseason work prior to last season, and it seemed he was finally on the verge of making his mark. The result of all of his hard work, though, was a 23-catch season with less than 300 yards and just two touchdowns.

Not everyone in Carrollton cringed at Brown's struggles, Trojans track coach Craig Musselwhite said - some chuckled.

"You hear the talk around Carrollton, 'Reggie's never going to be anything. If Georgia ever plans on Reggie being somebody, they're kidding themselves.' I've had to deal with that for four years," Musselwhite said.

Maybe those people feel like Brown once felt, that he let them down by not making All-American right out of the gate. Maybe it's just a natural backlash toward a kid whose name was known from coast-to-coast by the time he was a junior in high school.

Or maybe it's about the way Brown carries himself.

"He's a different kid, now, I'll tell you," Musselwhite said. "He's Reggie. That's what everybody says, Reggie is Reggie."

What exactly that is is tough to explain, even for Brown.

"I don't know," he said. "How would you describe me?"

"I don't know how to describe Reggie," Padgett said. "He's a very special kid. Talent-wise and person-wise, he's special."

The people close to Brown speak very highly of him, but the list of those people is short.

"He doesn't open up to too many people," Musselwhite said. "Even in our conversations now, I have to kind of pick at him a little bit to get him to tell me things.

"If you don't know him the way I do, you might think Reggie's a little stuck on himself or arrogant or whatever, but that's not him."

He's merely contained, they say, as comfortable by himself as in a group. He often works out alone, whether it be running 100 consecutive pass routes by himself, which he's done a number of times in Athens and Carrollton, or taking aerobics classes at Gold's Gym, as he did this summer here in Carrollton.

Order is important to Brown and only he knows the order he needs everything to be in.

"He's got his little routines," Musselwhite said. "It doesn't matter what else is going on, he's going to get those things done before he does anything else."

Brown does his pre-practice and pregame stretching in the same order and for the same amount of time. On game days, he's always the last Bulldog out of the tunnel, just like he was always the last player off the bus when he was a Trojan.

That desire to make sure everything is just-so can be a detriment. "He's a perfectionist," Georgia wide receivers coach John Eason said, "and sometimes it tends to hurt him. He wants everything to be just right, and he gets down on himself real easy."

Brown's physical gifts are so apparent that it's hard for some to believe he could question himself.

Georgia strength coach Dave Van Halanger measures each player's power index during the Bulldogs' summer conditioning program. The power index is an indication of strength compared to body weight. Brown's 6.52 index is a half-point higher than any other scholarship player. His total weight in the team's three major lifts (bench press, squat and power clean) is higher than any of Georgia's starting offensive linemen.

"For the last three years, everybody would say he's the best athlete on the team," Georgia quarterback David Greene said.

Musselwhite said he knew Brown was a special athlete when he saw him on a recreation department field as a first-grader, but the real Reggie stories don't start until he entered ninth grade.

It was then that Scott put him at scout team tailback to mimic the speed of Crim's offense.

"Nobody could tackle him, nobody," Musselwhite said.

"I can still hear our defensive coaches fussing, 'We can't tackle a freshman,'" Padgett said. "He was making our first-team defense look silly."

The next year, he wowed them again, during a track meet in which he set the state long jump record at 24 feet, 9 inches. But nobody in Carrollton talks about that jump. It's the one before it that they remember. Brown scratched by less than an inch but cleared 25 feet, 6 inches.

"It was scary," Padgett said. "I thought he was going to land out of the pit."

Three years later, while Musselwhite and Brown were training following Brown's graduation, Musselwhite swears he timed Brown at below 4.3 seconds on six consecutive 40-yard dashes with a one-minute rest between each sprint.

"There were a couple that were even faster than I would want to say," Musselwhite said.

But only now is Brown's mind getting out of the way enough to let his body take over. He said he decided this summer, finally, that he had to leave the expectations of his hometown behind.

"Either I'm going to get it done, or I'm not," he said. "It's my life."

Brown took over a starting spot in the Bulldogs' second game of the season and leads the team with 22 catches for 293 yards. He also has two touchdowns, which ties his season-high.

"He's always worked hard, and I think his confidence level has just gotten better and better," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "I think he knows we believe in him and we need him."

Brown caught seven passes for 78 yards last week against LSU, but he dropped at least one pass. The difference between this year and the previous three years is Brown seems more capable of bouncing back from those drops.

"In the past, I might as well take him out of the game (after one dropped pass)," Eason said.

But now Brown feels like he's finally finding the rhythm that has eluded him since high school, giving him the momentum to get over those bumps in the road, he said.

"His best days are ahead of him, he hasn't shown Georgia football anything yet in my mind," Musselwhite said. "I think he's got some things that before he leaves will be remembered as, 'Man do you remember Reggie Brown doing that?' or, 'Do you remember Reggie doing this?'"

In other words, just like he's remembered in Carrollton. THE BROWN FILE Name: Reggie Brown

Position: Wide receiver

Size/class: 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior

Major: Child and Family Development

High school: Carrollton High School

High school honors: 1998 USA Today Georgia player of the year ... PARADE Magazine All-American ... member of Trojans' 1996 and 1997 state track champions ... four-year letterwinner on basketball team that won three straight region titles and at least 26 games each year ...62 catches for 1,046 yards and 10 touchdowns despite missing three games as senior.

College honors: Georgia's leading receiver through four games ... Has one rush for 12 yards this season.

Quotable: "I'm a Reggie Brown fan, will be for life. In my heart, I felt like Reggie was going to make it. He was going to find a way because he's not going to quit. There's not a bit of that in him." - Randy Padgett, Brown's offensive coordinator at Carrollton.

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