Brown, the talented wide receiver of the newly crowned Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, got his first taste of what it's like to be the best during his Marshall career. Brown set a Patriots record for receiving when he broke into triple figures this season in New England. But in terms of sheer numbers, he's been in that territory before. Brown caught 101 passes as a senior at Marshall in 1992, en route to the Herd's first I-AA National Title.
The story of how Marshall found Brown has been told and re-told. But for those of you who haven't heard it before, it goes something like this. After the 1990 season, Marshall coach Jim Donnan sent offensive coordinator Chris Scelfo-now the head coach at Tulane-on a recruiting trip to the mountains of North Carolina in hopes of landing a lineman. What he ended up landing was one of the best players to ever grace the turf on the corner of Third Avenue and 20th Street.
Brown was toiling in relative obscurity at Lees-McRae College in the tiny town of Banner Elk, North Carolina. Banner Elk is in the rugged mountains of western North Carolina, about 20 miles as the crow flies west of Boone. If you are tying to get to Banner Elk and find yourself in Cranberry or Cranberry Gap, you've gone too far. Anyway, when Scelfo arrived in Banner Elk, he was the representing the only school that was interested in the five-foot-nine Brown, a receiver deemed too small and too slow by most other schools. Were not talking about ACC schools or other I-A schools here, we are talking about all the schools. East Tennessee State, Western Carolina and Appalachian State all could have had Brown, but passed.
Brown did what any player would do with his one and only scholarship offer-he took it. Scelfo noticed at once that the mild mannered Brown had an air of quiet confidence in his ability, not cockiness-but confidence. It seems hard to believe now, but when Troy Brown arrived in Huntington, he wasn't even the best receiver on the I-AA Herd. Michael Payton's top target in 1991 was the sure-handed Brian Dowler. But Brown began to show the skills that would serve him well in the NFL. As a junior at Marshall, Brown caught 38 passes for eight touchdowns but he also turned plenty of heads with his special teams ability. In 1991, Brown blocked a pair of field goals, an extra point and a punt. It was a sign of things to come.
After the heartbreaking fourth-quarter collapse against Youngstown State in Statesboro in the 1991 I-AA Title game, the Herd left nothing to chance the following season. Brown led the Southern Conference in catches, all-purpose yards and in scoring with 116 points. Brown was also among the league's best punt and kickoff returners.
Every Marshall fan remembers Willy Merrick's 22-yard field goal with ten seconds left to give the Herd a 31-28 lead on Youngstown State. But it was Troy Brown who intercepted YSU quarterback Nick Cochran's desperation pass at mid-field on the game's final play to preserve the win. While Brown appeared in the Herd's nickel package defense often during his senior year, that last-second pickoff in the championship game was the only interception of his Marshall career. It seems only fitting that Brown would come up with the football on his final play with the Green and White.
Brown was the Pats' eighth-round pick in 1993 and he quickly turned into a favorite of former New England coach Bill Parcells. His career now includes a Super Bowl ring and a trip to last weekend's Pro Bowl in Hawaii. Counting Randy Moss first three seasons with the Vikings, Marshall has now had a former star in the Pro Bowl four straight seasons.
Troy Brown's football career blossomed in Huntington and it's where he continues to make his off-season home. In honoring Brown with a parade, Herd fans would be giving thanks to a special young man who took full advantage of his opportunity to play football and earn his degree at Marshall. Brown has been and continues to be one of the best examples of what is special about the Marshall football story.
MAC RECRUITING TALES AND MORE:
A player who reneges on a verbal commitment on signing day is not uncommon these days. But it is rare when a player opts to jump to a team from the same league at the last minute. That was the case with speedy safety prospect Terna Nande from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Nande verbaled to Central Michigan and was considered a key part of an 18-player Chips recruiting class dominated by young lineman.
But when signing day arrived, Nande left CMU coach Mike DeBord waiting at the fax machine. The six-foot, 200-pound Nande used his 4.5 speed to race for a place in the 2002 recruiting class of the Miami RedHawks.
While Central Michigan may have lost a recruit to Miami on signing day, Western Michigan took an assistant coach away from Eastern Michigan last Wednesday. Mike Cummings, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator at Eastern Michigan the past two seasons, is the new offensive line coach at WMU. The 40-year-old Cummings knows his way around the MAC. He served as the offensive line coach for Dick Flynn at Central Michigan from 1992-98.
Linebacker Rhema Fuller from Cocoa, Florida told Central Florida that he wanted to wait until two days after National Letter of Intent Day to sign on the dotted line to make his 18th birthday a very special occasion. It turned out to be special alright, just not for UCF. The six-foot-four, 255-pound Fuller signed with UConn instead.
"I am a person of integrity," Reasoned Fuller. "So it was hard to dishonor that commitment."
ANOTHER MAC DC LEAVING
Fuller, nor any of the other current members of the UCF Knights will get a chance to play for former Central Florida defensive coordinator Gene Chizik. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville hired Chizik as the Tigers new defensive coordinator last Thursday.
Chizik did a great job in four seasons at Central Florida, steadily upgrading the UCF defense, which was ranked 16th nationally last season. Chizik replaces John Lovett at Auburn, who left for the defensive coordinator's job at Clemson after AU's Peach Bowl loss to North Carolina.
Central Florida becomes the third MAC East Division team that will have a first-year defensive coordinator this fall. Ohio and Akron have also changed defensive coordinators during the college football off-season.
MAKE A NEW PLAN, STAN:
Just a week after Marshall named Mark McHale as its new offensive coordinator, former Herd head coach Stan Parrish left the Michigan staff in the wake of a proposed demotion from his duel role as Wolverines' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Big Blue watchers are still wondering if Parrish left UM of his own accord, or was pushed out. News of the Michigan staff shakeup was not released until the afternoon following signing day.
Parrish, who led Marshall to back to back winning seasons as head coach before leaving the Herd for Kansas State in 1986, denied published and broadcast reports that a volatile argument early last week with Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr led to his departure.
"There is no accuracy to that at all, none whatsoever," Said Parrish to th e Ann Arbor News. "It was a decision that I made."
"Stan resigned. Period," Lloyd Carr told the Detroit News.
In his six seasons as the quarterbacks coach at Michigan, Parrish helped polish some talented signal-callers including Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, Brian Griese and Drew Henson. But after a late-season loss at the Big House to arch rival Ohio State and a 45-17 drubbing at the hands of Tennessee in the Citrus Bowl, the grumbling about the Michigan play calling increased. Michigan (8-4) finished the season ninth in the Big Ten in total offense.
"I think my options are all open right now," Surmised Parrish.
PICKING UP THE SLACK:
After J.R. VanHoose gobbled up career rebound number 1,000 among his 19 boards in Marshall's victory over Akron last week, Herd radio voice Steve Cotton cleverly exclaimed:
"J.R.'s now just 916 away from Charlie Slack."
VanHoose will end his Marshall career in second place for career rebounds. Charlie Slack (1953-56) collected an amazing 1,916 rebounds, third best in NCAA history. Slack's average of 21.8 rebounds per game over a four-year career is a college hoops record that may never be broken.