Chris Brown didn’t need to get open, but he needed to make a connection.
The night before Notre Dame’s first pep rally of the season, head coach Brian Kelly told the senior receiver he would speak to the crowd alongside Jaylon Smith. That gave Brown a night to work on his material and work out any stage fright.
Brown had spent the past three years of pep rallies wondering why anybody would actually want to address that crowd. Now it was his turn. And the fan base ate it up.
“Figured I’d give it everything I had,” Brown said. “Once I got out there it was probably more just feeding off of the crowd.”
Brown remembered a few lines and improvised a few more, which has been his job description all fall while growing into Notre Dame’s No. 2 receiver, clearly behind star Will Fuller but clearly ahead of Corey Robinson. Not only did Brown put up a career-high eight catches last week against Georgia Tech, he was targeted a career-high 11 times by DeShone Kizer.
Notre Dame’s new quarterback called Brown a “security” outlet, a compliment to the senior’s growth from one-route receiver to all-around talent. Known only for his ability to run really fast as a freshman – that 50-yard catch at Oklahoma remains his career long – Brown has developed into something more reliable since.
Brown’s 14 catches this season are more than Robinson, Amir Carlisle and Torii Hunter Jr. combined, even if he covered just 144 yards with those grabs with one touchdown.
“He's a gamer. He's a kid that gives everything he has,” Kelly said. “He's not as smooth as a Will Fuller. He's probably not as talented as a Torii Hunter. Doesn't have the size of a Corey Robinson, but boy, he's got a huge heart. He gives you everything he has, and that's what you love about him.”
Commitment has never been a question for Brown, even though he could have run track here after winning a state championship in the triple jump at Hanahan High School in South Carolina. The problem was always consistency.
Hyped as a potential breakout sophomore, Brown made just 15 catches that fall, five of which came in the Pinstripe Bowl. His junior year was better but included just one touchdown, a critical one against Stanford. Seven times Brown finished a game with two catches or less.
“There was some times where, ‘Man, why didn’t I make that play?’ and not knowing that it was a part of my preparation in practice,” Brown said. “It’s so understated about confidence. If you’re not 100 percent confident in your ability, you’re not going to be 100 percent confident when it comes your way.”
Tyler Eifert talked Brown through his freshman season. TJ Jones helped him as a sophomore. After DaVaris Daniels was suspended last August it made Brown the most veteran of Notre Dame’s receivers, although Will Fuller blew past him in profile during that 15-touchdown season.
Fuller remains ahead of Brown, but Notre Dame’s offense now sees the senior as a reliable outlet, perhaps for the first time. Brown has been targeted 22 times this fall, getting consistent looks from both Kizer and Malik Zaire.
“He’s a freak,” Kizer said. “He's definitely a security for me to get the ball to the back side when it comes to third down plays and give it to him all day long and expect him to get (yards) after the catch.”