There didn’t seem to be a window open for Orlando Brown’s recruitment. A Class of 2014 high three-star offensive tackle, he had committed to Tennessee in the spring and hadn’t given any indication of looking elsewhere.
But he was going to be forced to do just that. As signing day drew near, Tennessee was not going to send him a national letter of intent. The belief the Vols had was Brown stood no chance of qualifying academically so it wasn’t going to work out.
“Orlando and I had a really good relationship as a junior, had talked fairly frequently,” Stoops said. “He called me up late in recruiting and said he was reconsidering things. Checked to make sure we had room, and sure enough, we were able to make it work. He’s a great young man.”
The Sooners pulled off the signing day surprise with Brown inking with the Sooners. That was all well and good, but Brown had massive academic hurdles to overcome before he could ever step foot in Norman.
It was those hurdles that made the Vols back off, and it’s not like Tennessee gave up on the kid. Since his father’s death in 2011, Orlando Brown Jr. hadn’t really been able to get his life going in the right direction again.
OU gave him a second chance, something he has definitely made the most of. Following a redshirt season, Brown worked his way into the depth chart in the spring and powered his way to the starting spot at the prestigious left tackle position as a redshirt freshman.
He was able to get his feet wet in the 41-3 win against Akron, but now it’s back to familiar territory. His once upon a time college destination is now the opponent as OU heads to Tennessee.
“It doesn’t feel any different than going to Baylor, West Virginia – it’s all the same for me,” Brown said. “For me, it was about Coach Stoops and the situation. OU provided a better opportunity for me. It’s an honor for me to be here.”
It was a tough decision for Brown to make that call to Stoops right before signing day. Their relationship, although solid, obviously weakened after his initial pledge to the Vols as Stoops had to pay attention to other recruits.
Brown said he had no idea how that call would work out, but he doesn’t regret for one second that he reached out.
His first game had some good moments, some bad moments. Nothing too out of the ordinary for a freshman making his first start but nothing too damaging to believe he was in over his head.
“He played OK. He’ll just continue to get better,” Stoops said. “There isn’t anyone as conscientious or anybody who works as hard as he does.”
A source of inspiration for Brown has always been his father, former NFL offensive lineman Orlando Brown Sr. His father couldn’t be there in person last weekend, but he’s never far from his heart.
“Always,” Brown said. “He goes through my head every day, whether it’s I’m waking up, eating breakfast, going to class, doesn’t matter. He’s always there.”
His father’s spirit will be with Brown as OU travels to Knoxville. Although he once thought it would be his home, Brown doesn’t have a big background at Tennessee. He said he visited Neyland Stadium twice during his recruitment, once for a spring game and another for a home game vs. South Alabama.
Brown has tried to downplay the fact he’s going against the school he feels never gave him a shot to live his dream, but his teammates know how big this one is for Brown this weekend.
“Since he’s been here, Orlando has been all about going back and beating Tennessee,” sophomore offensive guard Jonathan Alvarez said. “He’s always talking about he just wants to get back at them.”
He’ll get his chance to show them what they missed out on Saturday night.