New Wes Brown Off And Running

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Skittish. Antsy. Maybe even a tad paranoid. Often looking over his shoulder, sometimes having the temerity to answer reporter's queries with questions of his own. Or snapping, ‘who told you so?’ when asked even innocuous football questions about himself or his past.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- Skittish. Antsy. Maybe even a tad paranoid.

Often looking over his shoulder, sometimes having the temerity to answer reporter's queries with questions of his own. Or snapping, ‘who told you so?’ when asked even innocuous football questions about himself or past.

That was the Wes Brown of old – a few years ago at Good Counsel High School, at the Under Armour All American Game in Florida on the eve of his college decision, even his early years at College Park. The one with the hard edge, the too-frequent scowl. They didn't use the term 'Play Mad' for him for nothing.

Today, the Terps junior running back Brown is all smiles, and very much at ease, as he reclines one afternoon at the Terps practice field in the seat of a parked golf cart, hoping to catch a little shade on a brilliant day of sunshine at College Park. He has waited for close to a half-hour for a reporter to wrap up another interview, something Brown would hardly have had the patience – or interest in – a few years ago. He would have been gone, long gone, like avoiding a linebacker in the hole, slipping out.

But now Wes Brown, who came through such adversity and family tragedy growing up in Baltimore, the city he still loves but is reluctant to visit as much, gives a hearty handshake and hug, welcomes all questions, and seemingly can’t stop talking.

Effusive? Wes Brown? For real?

Mind you, this used to be the one-or-two-word-answer Wes Brown, one that often shunned the media, one that slipped out back doors at pressers and prep football games trying to avoid them as best he could. Given his background, it’s no wonder he spent much of his time on the defensive, chip-on-the-shoulder, peering around the corner for the next adversity that might befall him or his family. Trust was always the key, and few had his. He chose every word (and what few they were at times!) wisely before doling any out to the media.

But the Terps' strapping, 6-foot, 210-pound back, who is locked in a camp battle this month with senior Brandon Ross for the top spot for 2015, is seemingly on top of his once star-crossed world, back from injury, suspension, and a tough past that sometimes tries to still sneak up on him.

Brown, the Maryland back with the best combination of size and skill and vision, and one due for a breakout season perhaps like no Terp this fall, has seemingly buried those demons and is fully engaged.

So engaged that Randy Edsall holds him up now as another model of perseverance and leadership in the program, like a Brad Craddock, the Terps senior All America candidate. And so much so that Edsall placed Brown on the Terrapin Council leadership committee in the spring. And that was a spring Brown didn’t even compete on the field, as he nursed winter shoulder surgery. Few would have ever thought it for the once-brooding Brown. It was one of the biggest surprises inside the program, given where Brown was just a year ago.

Said Edsall this week:

“I see a totally different young man, totally different guy than when he got here,” the head man said. “A totally different guy than when he got here and I am proud of him. Proud of how he has learned from some of the mishaps that he has had, and how he has emerged and how he has stepped up to be a leader and hold himself more accountable. But also hold other guys accountable.”

So big an honor, even Brown said he was floored. And touched, as his emotion on this day told the story as he explained his new team role. All from someone who put up a wall in the past, was jaded (perhaps justifiably so), and never let anyone in, especially to see any emotion.

“When it happened, man I was so surprised,” Brown said, beaming side-to-side. “I asked Coach Edsall what did I do to get on that? He said, ‘you have been doing everything that we need you to do. You are an example of what we want guys to be doing, taking care of your business in the weight room, on the field, in the classroom, and staying out of trouble when you are outside. You have all your things lined up.’ But when he told me I was still like shocked. But I was so happy,”

Brown was so pleased -- and his mother, Traherra Moore, and other family now living in the surrounding counties -- and energized that he rolled up his sleeves immediately with the other council members to determine issues like off-season player punishments for missed workouts, something he admits he was guilty of in the early years. He attacked this with more zeal than any football question in this sit-down. And the rewards as well.

“We were just trying to figure out why a few guys weren’t focusing on putting the work in and things like that," Brown explained, his eyes lighting up. "So we were talking on the punishment side about things, about what about this the guys are not getting? If you have an issue, come talk to us, or talk it out in meetings, so we can get it fixed as a unit. And not just a leadership council, because we wanted to make it a whole different atmosphere where they have a say in what we are trying to say. We’re just the heads of all the family, so a hundred or something heads, but us 11 as one. And we are going to talk to Coach Edsall, tell him that this is what we are thinking, that this is how the team feels, and so what do you think?

Brown joked about some of the worst punishments, like those "5 AM workout make-ups, and then you have to come to practice afterwards.” Or on the rewards side, if you have perfect attendance you don’t have to perform the conditioning test in the fall. He couldn't get enough talking about these, finally thrust in a position of authority, his mind racing over the possibilities.

Brown talks and looks the part these days. He said his surgically repaired shoulder has never felt better, his bench and squat are up in the weight room, and he is down 10 pounds since last fall. Last week in practice, Brown was running lower, hitting the holes quicker and in a goal-line scrimmage situation, he bounced two would-be tackler linebackers off his sturdy frame at the line for the score, just like back in the day.

But Brown, these days, looks past the simple competition with Ross, more ‘big picture’ now, and competing with the other side more strategically. Far more philosophical now for the once brash back that only cared about dashing past defenders back in high school.

“The defense is what’s pushing us and making us more competitive, because us [he and Ross] being next to each other is not going to make us really compete as much as the coaches really think. It’s more so the defense that is making us compete, and push harder and harder, and how we handle that adversity,” said Brown, after a week of defense dominating offense in camp.

Whats more, Brown talks about when an offensive lineman jumps off-sides, and “it’s now second-and-10 and you are pushed back. That adversity, that is what’s pushing us forward. So we got to figure out….so we talk as a group as running backs and so, okay like, ‘this is what I am going to do if that happened and we got this play because I know this gap is going to be open. That kind of thing.”

But running backs coach Terry Richardson, in his first year at Maryland, still likes that Brown “has some dog in him,” he said last week, as a runner with an attitude. And he has helped develop him even more, technique-wise, in just a few short months.

“We’ve done a lot with him [Richardson], like keeping our bodies tighter when we run through the whole instead of just loose running and dipping our shoulder. It’s more to dipping and trying to drive through the line,” Brown said. “He’s like one of the players in the meetings, he is so communicative.”

Brown said he still has some of that ‘dog’ in him, and it starts with his hunger, not only to run and win but to get back to full health and finally the top job. And that's because he wants to help the team win, not so much about personal glory, as he mostly avoids questions about his football self on this day.

“I think the thing is definitely the hunger. And I hate losing. I am used to winning,” Brown said. “So like I try to figure out how I can show these guys around me how it feels to win, and what they are supposed to act like when they are winning. It’s not comfortable if you just keep working on what you just did. But learn that you can always end up doing that same move you did last play. But you are going to have to learn you got to put those in your repertoire and use them later because you got to be spontaneous in what you do because there are always different angles to everything.”

Last season, while playing intermittently, Brown rushed for 356 yards and six scores. He got three starts, and was second among backs to Ross’ 419 yards. He sat out the previous season due to a University suspension for both running from police on campus and having a gun in his dorm room, but bounced back in the 2014 opener vs. JMU with 108 all-purpose yards, including 84 on the ground. But it was fits and starts from there, until late in the season at Michigan, where he helped win the game with his late ball-control and hard running as the Terps ground out key ticks off the clock in the victory. And Terps fans finally saw him getting downhill in the physical game with repeated touches. But in between, there were too many games in 2014 where he only got two carries (Syracuse, Ohio State), or platy yards (of 5, 8 and 5 on the ground), for such a talented back. After Week Two, Brown never went over 50 yards on the ground. This season, with only two experienced backs in the Terps’ stable, and with Brown fresher and healthier (the shoulder has nagged him for years) the work load is bound to go up, much to fans' pleasure for the former local four-star standout who helped put Edsall’s first recruiting class on the map.

It's key Brown stays healthy -- and for an entire season this fall -- and he looks in his best shape since high school. Brown's shed that excess weight he put on last year, when he pushed 220-pounds and looked dead-legged at times coming off the suspension year. Like in high school, going back to his roots [Brown is a fitness and health freak] Brown worked out on his own, at College Park, doing ladder drills and field work every other day this summer. He would hit the field at 6 AM on weekday mornings, he said, but on weekends “I would try to hit the heat [in the afternoons], because as Walter Payton would say its hardest to work out in the heat, but that is the best time to work out. But you got to push yourself then.”

Off the field, Brown has more peace around his family now, but he yearns for the day his native Baltimore City puts its recent past and deeper issues behind.

“I see it as a sad fact my city is looking the way it looks, and the way the media is making it seem rather than reporting more on the actual issues behind the deeper part of everything,” Brown said almost wistfully. “So to me, right now, I feel comfortable everyone in my family is now safe and taken care of. “But I am here now, I am focused on college now. I got a degree to get and I am on the football team. I can’t keep going back and forth. I am staying away from things that take my focus away,” he added.

Best of all, that coveted Terrapin Council seat he now occupies, which has him just as intrigued as talking football these days, showing a bit of the window into the new Wes Brown. One that is much more comfortable in his own skin that, well, he is hardly recognizable these days, that perpetual smile and impish attitude that he can do most anything now. And that there is life out there beyond football, too. Not many have peered in deep over the years beyond his inner-circle, so tight a circle that only his family and adoptive family, the Dancels, have had a good look inside. Maybe that is changing, finally, the scowl melting away, the defense-reflex no more.

“I don’t even know,” Brown said when asked how long his term lasts on the Terrapin Council. “I am just cherishing the moment because it is a blessing to be on it. Guys always looked up to me for something, I don’t know what…. but at the same time now that I am on there, it is more of a responsibility than it was before. And how I would see myself when before be too much to myself as my own person. Now I am more open now because I understand my role and my new responsibility.”

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