Fielding Fly Balls

Brown's baseball background has come in handy when it comes to returning punts for the Penn State football team.

For sophomore wide receiver and punt returner Justin Brown, a high fly ball to center field is the same in any sport's language, whether it be baseball or football.

Brown played center field for his AAU baseball team until the end of his junior year of high school. He feels his experience fielding that position has made him in the punt returner he is today.

“It comes natural to me because of my baseball background,” Brown said. “Judging the ball and whatnot (is similar). In baseball you have to read the ball right off the bat. In punting you read the ball right off the punter's foot. On certain punts the ball can tail (away) like it does off the bat in baseball.”

Brown made his debut as the primary punt returner for Penn State in last year's Capital One Bowl victory over LSU. In that game Brown returned three punts for 17 yards, including an impressive 18-yard run on his first opportunity.

The coaching staff trusting Brown in that situation meant the world to the precocious talent.

“That was huge for my confidence,” Brown said. “To be out there in such a big game with so much at stake -- that really helped me.”

This season Brown has fielded a punt in each of the Nittany Lions' three games, including a 15-yard return last Saturday again Kent State where the shifty wide receiver impressively eluded a pair of Golden Flash defenders.

Although Brown's main focus is on his receiving game, he understands the importance of his punt-return duties.

“I think that it's a big role on the team because that's one of the areas you can change the game,” Brown said. “Devon (Smith) and I are always thinking about changing the game every play on the punt return. We always like to take chances and make a couple people miss so we can score.”

Brown's partner in crime in the punt return game is the aforementioned Devon Smith. Although teams traditionally deploy one player to field punts, Penn State has been using a dual returner system this season, a setup Brown fully supports.

“I personally like it because we cover more of the field,” Brown said. “When you have one guy back there it's a lot of ground to cover. Two guys back there makes it hard for the punter kick it away from somebody or punt in a certain direction. It also helps with lead blockers because once one of us makes the call the other can block.”

Although Brown still has a passion for baseball, he doesn't see the sport playing a major role in his future at Penn State.

“A couple of my friends have told me to come and try out for the (PSU) team, but I think I'm just going to focus on football right now,” Brown said.


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