Team Guy

As the black-clad Jaguars of Northwest High school took the field at West Virginia's seven-on-seven football camp on Sunday, one very interested observer looked on, cheering and providing support for his former teammates.

The bystander had the look of an athlete, causing some to wonder why he wasn't out participating with the others. Perhaps an injury, or some other issue was consipring to keep him on the sidelines? Still, he watched with interest, and as the team came off the field, mingled easily with the players and coaches, chatting with them about the game and dispensing handshakes and congratulations.

Closer inspection revealed, however, that the well-built athlete wasn't sitting out by choice. It was, in fact, expired eligibility that was keeping him on the sidelines. The onlooker, as you may have guessed, was none other that Northwest alumnus and incoming WVU freshman wide receiver Darren Brownlee.

"I am getting ready to start working out [at West Virginia], but I had to come out here and support my former teammates," Brownlee said after watching his alma mater get knocked out by eventual camp champ Trinity. "They did a good job, and I was happy for them."

Of course, Northwest did an even better job last year, winning the camp behind the efforts of Brownlee and quarterback Ike Whitaker, who ended up signing with Virginia Tech. The visit to the 2005 version of the camp served as a sort of anniversary for Brownlee, who made up his mind to attend WVU during Northwest's visit to the Mountaineer campus a year ago.

"We had a great time last year, and I know they had a good time again this year," Brownlee said of the 2005 version of the Jaguars.

The ultra-polite and well-spoken wide receiver knows, however, that it's time for him to put his high school days behind him and get ready for his college career. He has taken his physical, completed all his paperwork, and is now working out with several other freshmen in his first days as a Mountaineer.

"I've heard about the workouts," Brownlee admitted with a smile that displayed equal parts sheepishness and trepidation. "I know it's going to be tough. But I've been looking forward to this ever since I signed. I couldn't wait to get down here and get started. I am really excited."

As Brownlee watched the last couple games of the tournament, he was joined by WVU rookie wide receivers coach Butch Jones, who shared a few words of encouragement. The picture -- two newcomers beginning their first year in a new program -- might well have served as the theme for the receivers this year.

"Coach Jones and I have talked some about that," Brownlee said of the parallel. "He called me right after he got the job, and he has made a big effort to get to know me and tell me about the way things will be. He's done a good job with that. I've thought about it a little bit - with both of us being new here, but I think it will be a good thing."

Brownlee and Jones also share another bond -- one which the receiver discovered shortly after talking with his new position coach.

"We're both from Michigan," Brownlee revealed. "I was born there and lived there for a while before we moved to Maryland. There aren't that many Michigan guys in the east, so that was something in common we had right away. It made it a little easier for us to get to know each other, because we had that common background."

Just a few minutes with Brownlee make a strong impression. He's respectful, says "sir" more than a buck private, yet maintains a quiet air of confidence and determination that shines through his somewhat reserved demeanor. His response to a question about his goals for the upcoming season demonstrates many of those qualities.

"I want to get on the field and help the team any way I can," says Brownlee. And although many in his situation have uttered the exact same words, there's something about the way he says them that makes you pay attention. "I think I can help the team at receiver. If I'm not ready, and the coaches decide to redshirt me (here he gives a quick glance at Jones), then that's ok, because I can use the year to get better. But I am coming in with the idea that I am going to work and prepare like I am going to play and help this year."

No matter how the situation turns out, it won't be a surprise to see the Northwest alumnus make his mark on the Mountaineer program. For although Brownlee is undoubtedly setting his sights high, he also has his feet planted firmly on the ground.

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