Perspiration engulfs his white Nike practice jersey as the Florida heat converts the football field into a suffocating sauna. Passes come his way from every angle, courtesy of former Miami Dolphins starting quarterback Chad Henne, NFL hopeful Jordan Palmer and many more. This is his dream nearing reality.
Former Monticello High School and Liberty University quarterback Mike Brown, who signed a three-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars in May as a wide receiver, is pursuing his life goal in the Sunshine State.
How it all came about is another story. Fate, perhaps, some would call it.
In late April, the 2012 NFL Draft took place, as 253 players were selected, from first pick QB Andrew Luck of Stanford to last pick QB Chandler Harnish of Northern Illinois. Brown, a star in college as a QB and a WR, never saw his name called.
“I talked to my agent [Robert Walker] right before the draft started,” said Brown, a two-time Big South Player of the Year. “He said I should hear from teams on day two of the draft. He said they will probably start calling me if I’m going to get drafted or as a free agent.
“An hour after the draft was over, I went to bed a little upset. I hadn’t heard anything from any team. My agent called me and said he hadn’t had any luck. He spoke with a few teams and said there wasn’t any interest.”
Then, he got his big break.
“It was a blessing for me. Coach [Danny] Rocco had been at Liberty. Him moving to Richmond kind of broke up our coaching staff,” Brown said. “The Jaguars hired a new coach, and then they hired our receivers coach out of Liberty.”
Charlie Skalaski, who spent nine seasons with the Flames, working closely with Brown during his time at wide receiver, became the Assistant to the Head Coach/Offensive Assistant for the AFC South squad in January.
“Right after the draft, it gets kind of crazy,” said Skalaski of the frenzy to sign undrafted players. “For coaches, there is more action right after the draft than there is during the draft...It’s the closest thing to college recruiting [in the pros].
“Mike’s name came up. I said this guy, he would be a great guy to bring in here. We have nothing to lose. Just look at Mike’s West Virginia film.”
The coach was referring to Brown’s performance against the Mountaineers as a redshirt sophomore in 2009. He caught 11 passes for 157 yards and two touchdowns in a 33-20 loss.
Brown didn’t care if he was getting a look at quarterback, receiver, or heck, even punter. He just wanted a chance.
“I was kind of open to anything,” Brown said. “I just wanted to play. I love the game; I love to compete. Any time you get a chance to compete at the highest level, it’s definitely an honor and a blessing.”
Brown went to Jacksonville for a tryout during the rookie mini-camp in early May and was signed to a non-guaranteed contract. Then, he went to the 10 days of organized team activities starting in mid-May and running to early June and a four-day mini-camp soon after. It’s safe to say it went well.
“Mike has played himself right into contention,” said Skalaski, citing that Brown managed to beat out former Virginia Tech WR Jarrett Boykin and UCLA WR Nelson Rosario for a spot.
“Mike plays fast. We make too big of a deal in football about stopwatches. We are a football team, not a track team. Mike plays at the same speed he runs. He gets in and out of his cuts. He has great quickness, great cuts. He is just a football player. He has looked good so far.”
Now he is up before 7 a.m., training for countless hours on a daily basis while also meeting with advisers, continuing on the path to his dreams. He is beaming with confidence, feeling that he deserves to be where he is.
“I had a really good rookie camp,” Brown said. “I ended up being the only slot receiver that we had there. That helped me get a lot of reps. I got the ball a good amount of times. I was really able to display what I could do. I proved that I could learn pretty quick.
“We have a great wide receivers coach in Jerry Sullivan. He has coached a lot of great receivers. That dude is helping me a ton.”
Brown didn’t just catch the eyes of the coaches.
“Mike has certainly made a positive first impression that we hope is a lasting one,” said Gene Smith, the General Manager of the team. “He’s really done a good job of converting from quarterback to wide receiver. He’s just a savvy football player who knows how to play the game. He’s shown natural hands and possesses good separation quickness at the top end of his routes.”
But, it hasn’t all been easy, especially dissecting the playbook.
“It’s a lot of stuff, it’s a lot of information,” Brown said. “The main thing is, it’s all grown men now. You have to teach yourself. In college, we go over every single play. Now, it’s we are giving you the plays, you have to learn them.”
What Brown learned quickly is that this is now all business. At times, it’s a cruel one.
“You can be there today, and you can be gone tomorrow,” said Brown, who saw his hotel roommate, former Furman QB Chris Forcier, released last week.
Living in a hotel isn’t the most ideal situation for a 23-year-old. But for the 5-foot-11, 200-pound rookie, at the moment, it couldn’t be a better situation, especially with head coach Mike Mularkey recently stating that the former Mustang has shown up everyday and contributed.
“It’s been pretty good,” Brown said. “I’ve been in the hotel and staying with friends since January...I haven’t really been home. I’m kind of getting used to it. It has given us a chance to try and get to know each other.”
During his down time, he often heads over to the house of Rashad Jennings, a former Liberty running back who backs up Maurice Jones-Drew, the 2011 NFL rushing leader. Brown can envision himself as an established NFL player in years to come as long as he continues to work.
“It feels great,” said Brown, who will return to Virginia soon until late July. “I have come a long way. I’m proud and happy. I still have a long way to go. The odds are really against me. My motto has been ‘beat the odds.’ You look at Tom Brady, what a sixth round draft pick? Now he is a top-two player in the league. It’s not about where you went to college at, it’s about how you perform when you are here.
“When my roommate got released, I was like ‘man, I'm in this room now by myself.’ Everyday you are putting your name on your work. You have to come out and you have to perform. You have to work your butt off and give it your best. I’m really excited, just blessed. God is working in my life in a bunch of different ways. I’m one step closer. I’m not there yet.”
At this point, he may get there. Brown, who has also gotten time as a returner, will go through training camp starting in late July, and if all goes well, will be on the 90-man roster for the preseason. The team is then cut to 75 during the third week of preseason, before it is again trimmed down to 53 for the start of the regular season. Brown’s first game could potentially be on Aug. 10 at home against the Super Bowl champion New York Giants in week one of the preseason, if all goes according to plan.
“Absoultely Mike has a chance to make this team,” Skalaski said. “The NFL is a very tenuous proposition at best. It’s hard to get in; it’s hard to stay in. He took it and ran with the rest of it. He is a 100 percent effort guy all the time, and he is a very intelligent player.
“We talk about the roster often in staff meetings. Mike has left an extremely favorable impression on the whole staff, from the offensive coordinator to the head coach to the special teams coordinator.”
The Jaguars could use help at the position. With an uncertain quarterback situation, with 2011 first-round pick Blaine Gabbert and Henne likely battling it out to be the starter, the wide receiver corps lacks stability as well. The team, which went 5-11 last season, ranked 30th in the league in receiving. Brown will compete with other wide receivers for a spot on the roster, one that has few sure bets, aside from perhaps first-round pick Justin Blackmon, Mike Thomas, Lee Evans and Laurent Robinson.
For Brown, he received his shot, and that is all he ever wanted. He also received a decent comparison.
“I know Jerry Sullivan said Mike has a lot of the same qualities as Wes Welker,” said Skalaski, referring the New England Patriots star wide receiver, who is a four-time Pro Bowl player and led the league in receptions in 2007 (tied), 2009 and 2011.
In the end, it was one move, a coach heading to the pros, that gave Brown the shot he wanted to fulfill his dream.
“It is amazing,” Skalaski said. “It’s amazing how God works. I certainly didn’t plan on that going into the draft.
“If Mike is working and progressing like he has been, he is going to have a shot. But there is a lot of football to be played between now and the start of the season. Based on what I’ve seen, I’m a Mike Brown believer.”