Freshman Fullback Called into Action

It's Feb. 7, 2007, at 9 a.m., and Phoebus High School's principal has cleared his office for a handful of the school's future college football players to sign their letters of intent and make their decisions final.

It's National Signing Day, and as of that morning, the star fullback/running back of the Virginia state-champion Phantoms isn't signing anywhere.

"My coach is looking at me like, "What are you going to do?" said Haroon Brown, who will start at fullback Saturday in place of the injured Cory Jackson.

"I'm going to wait," Brown said.

Meanwhile, Maurice Hampton, who had paved the way for Brown all season, signed for Maryland. Terrapin offensive line coach Tom Brattan, who recruits the Hampton Roads and Virginia Beach area, was sold on Hampton after watching his junior tape. At 6-foot-5, 295 pounds with great footwork and a gleaming recommendation from Phoebus coach Bill Dee, Hampton was a no-brainer.

But there was something else in watching Phoebus' tape that caught Brattan's eye.

"Woah, the fullback's pretty good," he thought.

"You kept on watching and it just kind of registered in the back of your mind. If we have a scholarship available and we need a fullback, this may be somebody that we'd want to consider," Brattan said.

It didn't seem like there'd be an opening at the beginning of the 2006 season. Junior Tim Cesa, red shirt freshman Chris Gronkowski and true freshman Jackson held down the position. But Cesa left the team after suffering a string of concussions and Gronkowski transferred to Arizona after the season. Only Jackson remained, and a fullback in the 2007 class became a need.

Still, though, Brown didn't receive an offer. Hampton, who verbally committed only a couple weeks before Signing Day, urged Brattan and Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen to keep an eye on his teammate.

"I was saying like, ‘Hey, you got a good kid here. He's really good. Why not give him a shot,'" Hampton said. "I didn't want to leave him out there."

Brown was a unique recruit—a "dying breed," Brattan said. He was a true fullback, a bruising blocker built like a bowling ball. With the increasing preference of many college offenses to go with a spread look, players like Brown are deemphasized in favor of faster, more versatile backfield threats. That's not the case with Maryland's offense under Friedgen, which has utilized traditional pro-form and "Ace" sets that include the need for a prototypical fullback.

The Terps found one in the 2006 class in Jackson, who much like Brown, didn't garner interest from many big-time programs. He started the last three games of 2006 season in place of Cesa and scored a touchdown in the Champs Sports Bowl. It was important, though, that there was at least one person behind Jackson. And with the defections after the season, there wasn't.

So on Feb. 7, shortly after Phoebus' Signing Day celebration, Brattan called Dee to offer Brown a scholarship. It was a one-or-the-other decision between Brown and an unnamed recruit for the final offer, Brattan said. North Carolina also came through with a last-minute offer.

The decision for Brown wasn't difficult, and he became the final member of the Terps' 2007 class.

"When we saw [the offer] we were so happy for him," Hampton said. "We all just got back together, got back with him, did the [celebration] all over again."

"It was just right time, right place for us," Brattan said. "Thank goodness."

Little did Brattan know at the time that Brown would be in the position he is this week, preparing to start against Clemson after Jackson broke his hand in the first quarter against Virginia. Brown overtook Steve Pfister for No. 2 fullback earlier in the season.

One thing is certain: There will be no physical drop off at the position. Brown said he can bench press 420 pounds, and in high school Hampton remembered him once putting up 480 pounds. At 5-foot-10, 240 pounds, Brown packs a compact, but nonetheless bruising punch.

"I think I'm physically ready to perform against any linebackers or any defensive people in this league," Brown said. "But the thing is mentally, it's a lot of stuff. They're not going to out-strength me, it's all about mentally where you're going to the ball, your assignments. If I can get those things right, it'll be a breeze."

"He runs through his blocks—a lot of guys don't do that," Friedgen said. "It's hard to find fullbacks anymore. I think with him and Cory, we've got two pretty good fullbacks for the future."

As it turns out, the last pickup of the class will be the only true freshman so far this season to start on offense or defense. Punter Travis Baltz has started every game and Dominique Herald has played on special teams.

It's the second year in a row the last scholarship has paid dividends for Maryland. LaQuan Williams, who had that honor in 2006, has started all but the first game at wide receiver this year.

"Recruiting as we all know is an inexact science and, you know, you look at tape and you rank ‘em and you go to all combines and everything," Brattan said. "Guys fall through the cracks now. It happens. As a recruiter, you never close any doors, you're always looking."

The one downside for Brown come Saturday, if there is a downside, is that he will lose his red shirt. It's a minor concern, though, and one he quickly dismissed when asked about it by a reporter Tuesday.

"I'm second on the depth chart, I'm not going to pass up this opportunity for nothing," he said. "If they need me to play, I'm going to play."


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