Showing heart all the way, Brown ends college career with first TD


UF senior cornerback Vernell Brown heads to the end zone after intercepting a pass.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, January 3, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 2, 2006 at 11:53 p.m.
Vernell Brown came into his senior season dubbed by Florida coach Urban Meyer as "the face of Florida football."
Brown left Florida with redemption on the same Raymond James Field where his career got off to an inauspicious start. His first career touchdown, a 60-yard interception return, sparked Florida in its 31-24 Outback Bowl win over Iowa.
"Once I caught it, I knew I had it," said Brown, who returned from a broken tibia suffered eight weeks ago to start at cornerback. "I wasn't going to let anyone run me down from the backside. It was definitely exciting."
It also was on the same field where Brown threw a game-clinching interception on an ill-advised gadget play in a 38-30 Outback Bowl loss to Michigan. Brown, an option quarterback at Gainesville High, lined up at receiver despite playing sparingly his freshman season.
"I guess you can call it coming around full circle," Brown said. "But I forgot about that play two or three years ago. I play for the future now."
The future looked hazy for Brown when he broke his lower leg while returning a punt against Vanderbilt last Nov. 5. Brown vowed that he would return in time for the bowl game.
Brown not only returned, but played nearly the whole game after taking two injections in the 12 hours prior to the game to dull the pain.
"That ball hit him right in the numbers for a reason," Meyer said. "That young man, everyone in the country should see that. If they haven't, they should see that.
"Vernell Brown is a guy that was told you can't do this, you can't do that, broke his leg, told he won't be back. He looked me back in the eye with tears and said he'd be back for the bowl game. And he was back for the bowl game and played his heart out, played the entire game."
Brown sat out practice last Wednesday after going full speed Tuesday in his initial practice.
"I pretty much knew I was going to get back," Brown said. "I didn't know how much I was going to play. I tell you what, if you would have asked me before the game whether or not I was going to play a whole game, I wouldn't have been able to answer you."
The 5-foot-9, 165-pound Brown has been battling long odds his entire career by coaches who questioned if he was big enough or strong enough to play Division I football at a high level. But Brown and Meyer clicked instantly. When questions surfaced whether transfer Reggie Nelson would replace Brown as a starter, Meyer squashed the rumors by declaring Brown as Florida's football face.
"I don't think there's anything nicer a coach can say about a player," Brown said. "When he calls you the face of his team, he's telling you that you are both the model citizen and model player."
The relationship has even made Brown consider coaching, but for now, he's focused on trying to make an NFL roster. Brown said he's received feedback that puts him anywhere from a mid-round draft pick to a priority free-agent signing.
"All I want is a shot," Brown said. You can reach Kevin Brockway by calling 374-5054 or by e-mail at brockwk@gvillesun.com.

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