It was overwhelming at times.
Because when Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey opened a three-day rookie mini-camp this past weekend – a weekend that essentially was a tryout for Brown and many others – by saying all players would be evaluated equally, Brown did something significant.
He chose to believe him.
“He said everybody was on the same playing field,” Brown said.
Before that, Brown said he had jitters – a lot of jitters, actually, because before that, there was a lot that was about dreaming rather than performing.
An NFL locker room. NFL equipment. NFL coaching.
All of it was big-time stuff for many of the 50 participants, but for Brown, it was really big-time, so Mularkey’s words? They helped.
“They calmed me down – a lot,” Brown said.
There were many inspiring stories at mini-camp last weekend, and many unlikely stories remain on the 90-man roster as the team prepares to begin organized team activities at EverBank Field next week. Brown’s may not be the most unlikely story, but it’s not far off.
Brown (6-feet-4, 205 pounds), a safety, played collegiately at Wagner. For those who don’t know – and Brown said he gets that many people don’t – Wagner is in Staten Island, New York.
The school’s nickname is the Seahawks. The undergraduate population is 1,900. One claim to fame: In Season 3 of the Sopranos? When Tony and Carmela are considering putting A.J. in military school? Wagner is the campus.
The Seahawks play NCAA Division I FCS, formerly Division I-AA, and won the Division III national title in 1987. Former Jets and Eagles Head Coach Rick Kotite went there, as did current Mississippi State Head Coach Dan Mullen, but when asked this week for the short list of NFL players from Wagner, Brown laughed.
“There aren’t any ex-NFL players from Wagner,” he said.
Brown said that doesn’t bother him, because those stories are the paths of others.
Brown’s path began in Brooklyn, N.Y. He earned a black belt in karate, and boxed for a few years. He began playing football as a freshman at Grand Street Campus High School in Brooklyn, played quarterback and safety, and was an All-City selection. He considered the University of Albany, but Wagner offered a full scholarship.
He said for a while he thought of transferring, but he said in time, the program improved, and helped him improve, too.
He started four seasons, and was a team captain as a senior. He finished his career with 154 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, nine passes defensed, three sacks and an interception, and while Wagner was not heavily scouted, he said he did maintain thoughts of the NFL.
Often, he said he was alone in those thoughts.
“There were haters,” he said.
But he said worrying about doubters wouldn’t be productive, and after his senior season, he was invited to the NFL Regional Scouting Combine. That led to an invitation to the Super Regional Combine. Jaguars linebackers coach Mark Duffner flew to Wagner to work him out and he also spoke with Jaguars assistant Marlon McCree. He said those conversations inspired him to work harder, and although he wasn’t drafted or signed as a free agent, the Jaguars offered him a chance to be one of their tryout rookies last weekend.
“I prayed for it,” he said. “It came true, and the opportunity was something I know you don’t get every day. I just told myself I had to take advantage of it.”
He said Mularkey’s talk about being judged equally helped his early nerves, but he said something else happened over the weekend, too. Soon, the weekend became about football and he realized he’d never been more comfortable playing.
“It was the best coaching I’ve ever had and ever experienced,” he said. “If you overthink things, you tend not to be who you are. I felt like I was who I was, and me being that allows me to make plays and show what I can do. I felt comfortable, and once I got there, I felt like it was where I needed to be.
“I just told myself every day going into practice that I had to make this reality – and that God willing, I’d make it a reality.”
Shortly after practice Sunday, Brown and several others were called into a room at EverBank Field. They were told the team planned to sign them to the active roster.
“It didn’t seem real,” Brown said. “It was like my dream became reality before my eyes and I felt like I was still dreaming.”
Brown said he knows there’s a long way to go before the dream is really realized. Making a 90-man roster doesn’t mean making the final roster. But he said, too, that when he returns to EverBank for OTAs next week, he won’t be nearly as overwhelmed, and when Mularkey talks about all players being judged evenly, there will be at least one player in the room believing everything he hears.
“He didn’t just say it one time,” he said. “He said it several times. I just felt like everything that came out of his mouth he meant, and it obviously was true.
“It’s a blessing. To actually say I’m living my dream is a great thing.”