Growing up in Miami, Brown had to scratch and claw to draw interest from colleges in the talent-rich football area. And even when he did draw that interest, the 5-10, 185-pound Brown was forced to go a non-traditional route to reach his ultimate goal, the NFL.
But after being selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the sixth round of this year's draft, Brown knows he still has a long way to go to truly accomplish his lifelong dream of playing in the NFL.
"I don't mind hard work at all," said Brown said after a lengthy workout at the Steelers' training facility long after many other players had already gone to the locker room. "If you don't work, you shouldn't eat. I pride myself in being a hard worker and putting myself into position to be successful.
"I've been working for this opportunity since I was a kid. Just to come out here every day and see my locker and be able to come out and catch passes and run routes against guys who are the best, it's a great opportunity for me. I consider myself the best, so I can measure my talent and be an elite player at the highest level."
Coming out of Norland High School in Miami, where he was a two-time Class 6A all-state selection, Brown had offers to play college football from a handful of major colleges. But he didn't qualify under NCAA academic standards so he decided instead to enroll at North Carolina Tech.
A quarterback, Brown ran for 451 yards and 13 touchdowns while throwing for 1,247 yards and 11 more scores in just five games.
Yet when his year at prep school was complete, he found himself a forgotten man.
"Central Michigan was the only school that gave me an opportunity," Brown said. "I went there as a walk-on and earned a scholarship. I took advantage of my opportunity."
And then some.
Playing in the Chippewas' pass-happy offense that was triggered by Dan LeFevour, Brown was named the Mid-American Conference freshman of the year after setting a school record with 102 receptions, at the time the second-best total in NCAA Bowl subdivision history behind Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree.
He followed that up with outstanding sophomore and junior campaigns that saw him named the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year twice in addition to being named an all-conference wide receiver.
Brown, who declared for the draft after his junior season, finished his career with 305 catches for 3,199 yards, hauling in a pass in 41 consecutive games. He accounted for touchdowns receiving, rushing, passing and on both kickoff and punt returns. There was little doubt he was a special player.
"I love returning," Brown said. "I pride myself on being a special player and special players play special teams. I can return, I can play receiver. I'm trying to cultivate my role. Whatever will help the team get better. Any opportunity that is presented to me, I'm going to take advantage of it."
His return ability – he had 3,434 yards and five touchdowns on returns alone for the Chippewas – intrigues the Steelers.
"He is an exceptional player with the football in his hands. He's one of those natural guys at fielding punts and kickoff returns," said Steelers first-year wide receivers coach Scottie Montgomery. "There's a lot of things you can do from a coaching standpoint, but if they can't get to the spot and catch it, then you can't really help a lot of them. He is one of those guys that does have the natural ability to catch it. He has great short-space quickness."
What he lacked was straight-line speed, which caused him to fall to the sixth round despite his outstanding numbers in college. Though he ran a 4.43- second 40-yard dash at Central Michigan's pro day, he was timed at 4.54 seconds at the NFL combine.
For a receiver lacking great size, that's nothing spectacular.
But it's very similar to what another Pittsburgh receiver, Antwaan Randle El, ran in his collegiate days.
And unlike Randle El, who was a record-setting quarterback at Indiana, Brown has plenty of experience playing wide receiver.
"I feel like I can do whatever's asked of me. I've been playing Z on the outside (with the Steelers)," Brown said. "At Central Michigan, I played the slot. But I think my ability to run fast will give me chance on the outside to do some things out there."
If he sounds confident in his abilities, it's because growing up in Miami and playing against some of the top talent in the nation on a regular basis prepared him well.
"You're playing with a lot of very competitive guys and a lot of great athletes," Brown said. "The players who come from Miami have that edge because they have to compete so hard. The guy next to you is just as good as you. It gives you that hard-edged mentality because it builds your competitiveness and game."
(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.)