This wasn't what the senior receiver anticipated, not what anyone anticipated. Not Saturday's loss to Temple, not this season which stands at 3-8 with one game remaining, and not for Brown himself.
When Rich Rodriguez initially came to WVU, the thoughts of Antonio shattering every Mountaineer receiving record danced through many a head. After all, the 5-10, 170-pound jitterbug seemed perfectly suited to be a slot receiver in Rod's spread attack. He was lightning quick and knew a thing or two about catching a football. After all, he entered the season with 124 career receptions, the fifth most in WVU history.
But on Brown's way to the top of all the charts, something odd happened. Instead of snagging passes by the bunch and dashing for large chunks of yards, Antonio has been spending more and more time on the sideline, mired deeply in the doghouse.
Though he's caught a seemingly respectable 31 passes for 291 yards this year, his statistics are actually misleading. After grabbing 50 and 51 receptions in the past two seasons respectively, it was not an unreasonable notion that he would get the 68 catches he needed to eclipse David Saunders' (1994-98) career record of 191. Brown won't come close, though, in a season as odd for him as it has been for the Mountaineers as a whole.
Like the team, Brown has had his moments in 2001. After being slowed by injury at the start of the season, he returned with a vengeance in game three. He had eight catches for 116 yards against Kent State and followed that with a 10-reception, 108-yard performance at Maryland,becoming just the sixth Mountaineer ever to post back-to-back 100 yard receiving games.
But other than an eight-catch, 36-yard afternoon at Syracuse, Brown has been a non-factor the WVU offense since those two 100-yard days. In his three big games against Kent, Maryland and Syracuse, Antonio caught 26 passes for 250 yards. In the other seven games combined, he has just five receptions for 41 yards.
Brown's seat in the doghouse apparently has become permanent because the coaches feel he isn't a physical player, meaning he doesn't block well enough or run hard enough after a catch. That's a tough tag, because some see that as a reflection on his character. That's a shame, because Antonio is one of the nicest, most accommodating people you'll ever meet off the field. And on it, he's a hard worker, earning the title "best conditioned" for his weight class this summer.
But because of his stumbling running style and his lack of blocking, all of Brown's other attributes have had little time to shine this season.
Rather than whine, though, Brown has sucked it up and accepted his lot with no public complaint. Though the tears that welled in his eyes told the story of discouragement – both in terms of the team and the individual - Antonio refused to complain about his status after the loss to Temple.
"I try not to get frustrated, because I consider myself to be a team player," Brown quietly, haltingly explained, trying to find the proper words. "When you speak of ‘me,' you talk about ‘I,' and I don't want to be an ‘I guy.' I'm not an ‘I guy.' I'm a team player, and whatever the coaches feel is good for the team is alright with Antonio, because I want to be a team player. All I want to do is win. That's all I've ever tried to do,and you don't do that by being an ‘I guy.' "
There's no doubt that the Mountaineers could have used Brown's big play ability this year. They desperately needed just that. This football team has lacked a lot of things, but nothing more so that a big play receiver. A lot of factors go into presenting a receiver with such opportunities. Some he controls,some he doesn't.
"You might come into a game where you catch 10 passes, and you might come into a game where you catch no passes," noted Brown. "We've been trying to take what the defense gives us. I've been trying to make the most out of the opportunities that I get. That's just the predicament you put yourself in as a receiver. We're number five in the progression – first, it has to be called; second, it has to be blocked; third, the quarterback has to make the right read and proper throw, then we have to run the right route, and finally we have to make the catch. There are a lot of factors that go into catching a pass. Being a receiver can be up and down."
And no one on this team, which has plenty of ups and downs itself, has had more than Antonio Brown.
Saturday's loss to Temple may have been the furthest down any have been in quite some time.
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