Opportunity knocks for backup Brown
Published: Monday, August 5, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 11:42 p.m.
GAINESVILLE — Four years ago, Mack Brown was thought to be the savior of Florida's running back position.
Nowadays, he's the forgotten man.
Brown committed to the Gators back in July of 2009 at Friday Night Lights. At the time, many regarded him as one of the most important football prospects for then-coach Urban Meyer. UF had yet to produce a 1,000-yard back during his tenure, a trend that was expected to end once Brown arrived in Gainesville.
Three seasons later, the Under Armour All-American has just 167 career rushing yards.
“Things haven't gone my way,” Brown said.
He's been relegated to mop-up duty because of several injuries (including a broken fibula), his issues with pass protection, a Charlie Weis offense that didn't fit his running style, and Miami Dolphins rookie Mike Gillislee, who last year became Florida's first player since Ciatrick Fason in 2004 to rush for more than 1,000 yards in one season.
Brown considered transferring in the past, and the hype from his recruitment is nowhere to be found as a redshirt junior.
“It bothers me,” Brown said. “I never thought I would get feelings like that.”
As Gillislee's backup in 2012, Brown had critical first-down runs late in the Texas A&M game and rushed for a season-high 31 yards on four carries versus Kentucky.
After UF wrapped up its SEC schedule, he hoped to get more opportunities in non-conference games against Louisiana and Jacksonville State.
But that chance didn't come.
Brown suffered a high-ankle sprain and didn't touch the ball the rest of the year. Matt Jones, meanwhile, made a name for himself in the process.
“It was difficult,” Brown said of how his season ended. “When Matt filled in as a backup, he did his job. And that fueled me to get better. So the whole offseason, I got faster and stronger and worked on getting quicker, like I used to be when I first got recruited and was 185 (he now weighs 215 pounds).
“Even though coach says get five yards every carry, sometimes you gotta make a big play and go for 50.”
That time is now. A serious viral infection has put Jones out indefinitely, and Brown has a shot to impress in training camp and earn first-team reps for the fall.
“I've got a lot of confidence in Mack,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “When he had his opportunities last year, he played really well and he ran the ball really well. He had a good spring, and he improved on the things he needed to as far as protection in the passing game, which we're going to ask our backs to do a lot of.
“It's a huge opportunity for him to step in and get more touches and more carries and more opportunities which, in that situation, you've got to be productive, and I think he will.”
With all the excitement surrounding Jones and five-star freshman Kelvin Taylor, Brown is almost an afterthought in the backfield.
But he's not bitter about it.
“I like when I hear things like that,” Brown said. “I can be the forgotten guy now. That's fine. If I'm forgotten at the end of the season, I'll be mad. But people are going to remember me by then.”