Orlando Brown walked into his father’s bedroom, just a few weeks into his sophomore year at DeMatha Catholic High School.
His dad – his hero and his best friend – had recently passed away. A white bandana rested on the bed inside his home in Baltimore County, Maryland.
Almost four years later, Brown, a redshirt freshman at Oklahoma, stood inside the Everest Training Center with a similar bandana wrapped around his head – solid white except for a few black markings. He wears it in remembrance of his father.
“He helped build me into a man of character, not only a football player,” Brown said.
He’ll place a helmet over the bandana this year as the potential starting left tackle at Oklahoma for the season opener on Sept. 5 against Akron. It hasn’t been an easy road.
After his father died, Brown fell behind academically, though he said his father’s death shouldn’t be an excuse for his poor grades. He moved to Duluth, Ga., with his brothers and his mother. To a point, Brown was lost.
“It was tough,” Brown said of losing his father in 2011. “My dad was my best friend. He was my hero. That’s why I wear this white bandana. He played a big role in me playing football.”
Brown, who was a three-star tackle out of high school, has grown up – to a listed 6-foot-8 and 350 pounds. He chose Oklahoma over Tennessee, citing offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh as a big reason for his decision.
His grades are under control. Brown said he earned a 3.0 GPA during his first year at Oklahoma. He said he had fewer distractions once he left home.
Now, Brown has new challenge to face: Possibly being the next left tackle at Oklahoma. It’s a responsibility that Brown understands.
“I’m very aware,” he said. “You look at the guys that are playing in the NFL now – the Lane Johnsons, the Trent Williams. The list goes on and on for years, starting with Stockar McDougle: To play here at OU and wear that color and have that on your helmet and to play that position, just knowing the power behind it.”
The last five Oklahoma full-time starters at left tackle have been drafted in the NFL.
Before Brown came to Oklahoma, his father introduced him to former Oklahoma star Jammal Brown. The two have worked together, and the result has been rapid development.
Working with a soccer ball to develop good footwork and learning from a Super Bowl champion on how to punch off defensive linemen, Orlando Brown has risen quickly – albeit expectedly.
“We knew somebody had to emerge at tackle,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “He hasn’t been the only one, but . . . we knew we had to have someone emerge there. His work this summer, I can’t say enough about it. He’s playing pretty well right now.”
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops called Orlando Brown the “all-star” of preseason camp. Brown’s potential was the talk of last year’s camp. This season, it has all come together.
Everything Brown went through before coming to Oklahoma has helped prepare him to persevere on the blind side of the Sooners’ offensive line.
“It’s definitely taught me lessons on how to grow and how to react in situations and make the best of any situation – no matter what happens,” Brown said. “It helped me grow as a person.”
Brown didn’t come to Oklahoma blind to the situation on the offensive line, but he also didn’t make his decision to come to OU because the Sooners had a plethora of senior offensive linemen. There would soon be holes to fill and a chance to play early.
The competitor in him wanted to say that he thought he would be contending for a starting spot at left tackle this early, though he couldn’t point to a specific moment when he realized he’d be in this position.
With a white bandana wrapped around his head as a memory of his past, Brown won’t be satisfied with how far he has come.
“I’m nowhere near where I want to be, nowhere near where I need to be,” Brown said. “I have higher goals and things like that. I did great in camp, but for me, it’s all about staying consistent and getting better and better throughout my career here.”