Brown gains perspective through injury-plagued career
Published: Friday, March 29, 2013 at 9:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 7:41 p.m.
Sixth-year senior Jeremy Brown is the forgotten man in Florida's defensive secondary.
He has been lost in the shuffle at cornerback and is an afterthought for many Gator fans.
Four injuries and 45 missed games will do that.
“I don't think I've had a full year of being healthy since I've been here,” Brown said.
But Brown was the hot topic of Florida football back in 2008 as an early enrollee. The first-team Class 6A all-state selection out of Orlando Boone was so impressive in spring practice that then-coach Urban Meyer called him better than fellow freshman Janoris Jenkins, who later became one of the nation's top college corners and now plays for the St. Louis Rams.
And it was Jenkins, not Brown, who had the honor of being the second cornerback in school history to start as a true freshman.
Brown hurt his back during a weightlifting session that summer and returned home to rest, thinking he had just pulled a muscle and would get better by fall camp.
“There were times when he couldn't even stand up and walk,” said his mother, Cheryl Brown-Merriwether. “He was in excruciating pain, and it kept getting worse.”
After months of agony, doctors finally discovered what was wrong with Brown — two herniated discs in his lower back and inflamed facet joints.
The injury sidelined him for two years and almost ended his college career.
“There were times when the doctors told him he would possibly never play again, and that was devastating for him,” Brown-Merriwether said. “At that time, his identity was framed by football. He thought, ‘I have no future if I can't play football. What will I do?' ”
Through his chronic back issues, a right hamstring injury, a knee surgery that cost him all of 2011 and a broken wrist last summer, Brown has found the answer.
“The injuries helped him realize what's important in life,” his mother said. “The lessons he's learned at 23 some people live a lifetime and never learn.”
Being hurt has allowed Brown to focus on his 5-year-old son, Jaden. He's earned two degrees from UF and just got accepted into grad school for sports management. He visits children's hospitals and volunteers in the community. And, as his mother proudly points out, Brown lends a helping hand to his teammates as well.
“One of the greatest pictures I have is a shot of him on the sidelines encouraging somebody else who got injured,” she said. “He wasn't able to play, but his contribution was as valuable as contributions others were making in the game. There's a lot more to him than what people just see on that field. And to me, that made it all worthwhile.”
The player who was once penciled in as a starter is now just thankful for an opportunity to play and be injury-free.
“It's my last go-around. I want to have a good season,” Brown said. “If I can just stay healthy and get these young guys going, be a good mentor and perform when my number is called, that will be a success for me.”