Embattled Brown has persevered

A string of injuries cost Jeremy Brown three years of his college football life. However, those injuries have changed his life for the better. On Saturday, he will graduate with a triple major — criminology and law, sociology and psychology.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 3, 2013 at 11:43 p.m.

He arrived on campus like so many wide-eyed freshmen do, convinced that it would be a short stop on the way to bigger things and full of confidence and bravado.

Jeremy Brown could cover like vacuum-pressed plastic. He was battling for a starting job against a player who would wind up in the NFL.

That was so long ago, I think George Bush was president. You know, the first George Bush.

Jeremy Brown is 23 years old now. His teammates kid him about his age. He revels them with stories about Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin.

“I've seen a lot of stuff,” he said. “The good, the bad and the nasty. I've seen it all.”

To recruitniks and bloggers and even fans of college football, Brown would be considered a bust, one of those big-time prospects who never panned out.

In reality, he might be the biggest success story on the 2013 Florida football team.

On Saturday, he will graduate with a triple major — criminology and law, sociology and psychology. He was just accepted into grad school at Florida where he will shoot for a master's in sports management.

“I'm not leaving yet,” he said with a smile.

The last man still playing for Florida from the 2008 national championship team is an example of perseverance and resolve, a living testimony to overcoming adversity and making the most of one's opportunities.

He could tell you a sob story about all of the injuries he's had at UF. Instead, he wants to tell you about the injuries that changed his life for the better.

“I'm blessed to go through what I've been through,” he said. “It sounds funny to say, but all of these injuries have been a blessing in disguise. I'm a better person. I'm a better father.”

His son, Jaden, turns six today. He's as old as Brown's career.

Brown figured he'd be in the NFL by now. Instead, he's a backup cornerback and a special teams player as Florida gets ready for this season. He's not going to beat out Marcus Roberson or Loucheiz Purifoy. He'll never be the face of Florida football.

But maybe he should be.

“I've taken advantage of the system,” he said, “instead of the system taking advantage of me.”

It was in January of 2008 that this journey began. Brown signed with Urban Meyer's Gators out of Orlando Boone, a four-star corner according to Rivals.com. He competed with Janoris Jenkins, another freshman cornerback, to start for a team that would eventually win a national title.

That's when it began, a string of injuries that cost him three years of his college football life.

In 2008, it was his back. Herniated discs made it difficult to get out of bed, much less compete on the practice field. Brown sat for two seasons getting treatment. Jenkins started and is now with the St. Louis Rams.

“Jeremy came in and had an immediate impact as an early enrolled freshman,” Meyer said. “He was all energy and had tremendous work ethic.”

By the time he was able to play again, Meyer had resigned and returned, Tebow was headed for the NFL and the Gators were looking for a cornerback opposite Jenkins in 2010. Brown started 10 games and had three interceptions. But he missed the final two games of the regular season with a hamstring injury.

In 2011, he suffered a knee injury that cost him the entire season. Prior to the 2012 season, he missed the first game with a broken wrist. When he returned, he played almost exclusively on special teams, making five tackles.

“It's been tough,” he said. “You come in with such high expectations and spend most of your career injured,” he said. “You come in and get caught up in that three-and-out mentality. I definitely did.

“But when you get injured, you take a step away from football and look at life. I've maximized my opportunities. People see I've lost so much, but I've taken something away.”

So here he is, ready for season No. 6 thanks to a special NCAA waiver. The old man on the team has “embraced” his role as a mentor to the younger players seriously. It's not just football related. He can point to himself as an example of how to do things the right way and get the most out of the educational opportunities that come with receiving a scholarship because you can run really fast.

“Most would have given up,” Meyer told me, “but Jeremy is a man of faith and has great support from home.”

And so, the journey continues.

“He and I sat down last December. We wanted to try to give him another year,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “I was all for it. He's a mature guy who's a good football player. He just needs to stay healthy, that's the issue.”

Always has been. Muschamp has a quote he uses every once in awhile about how life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react.

Brown is the poster student-athlete for the 90 percent.

“I've been here so long I feel like Gainesville is my city,” he said. “It has been a long journey.”

And it still has a ways to go.

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