PARTING THOUGHTS: MUST READ, IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE 2013 SEASON, PLAYERS & TEAM
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Every college football career is unique in some way or another, but few players have had a more arduous time at the University of Florida than cornerback Jeremy Brown. A four-star prospect out of Orlando (Fla.) Boone in 2008, Brown was in line to hold the starting position that would eventually go to Janoris Jenkins when he injured his back before the start of his freshman season.
He missed two years, had one strong season and then was forced to fight through injuries again. The experiences transformed him from one-track mind football player to a college student embracing the opportunity presented to him.
We caught up with Brown for the latest edition of Parting Thoughts and left no stone from his six years in Gainesville unturned.
ITG: You came to Florida in the spring of 2008. That had to be a fairly exciting time to be joining the Gators, right?
Brown: "It was a dream come true. The Gators had Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin and Brandon Spikes, all the big names. They had one of the hottest coaches in the country. There was a vibe about Florida that they're hot right now. They were the Alabama of that era. Everybody was talking about them. That's where all the recruits were taking their visits. To be able to come to Florida at a time like that, it was special."
ITG: Early on, you go from an extreme high to an extreme low. Walk me through your first handful of months on campus.
Brown: "I had a great spring. I was leading the cornerback battle opposite Joe Haden. Then I suffered a serious back injury (two herniated disks and inflamed facet joints) that summer going into the season. It was tough. Any time you go from being at the top in anything in life and then hit rock bottom, it's tough. Being so young, I at first didn't know how to handle the situation.
"The first thing you start thinking is why me? Have I done anything wrong? Is this karma hitting me? You start playing back in your mind, why am I going through the things I'm going through? I had to begin to switch focus and think about how I can make the most of my time in the midst of being hurt. It turned to watching more film, becoming a student of the game instead of a player. There's a transformation that goes on. When you're young, you don't understand how to watch film or break down an opponent. I was able to use that time to learn those techniques and apply them."
ITG: Was there a lowest moment in all of that?
Brown: "Just not being able to play. The lowest moment was seeing the team's success and knowing you should be out there but you can't. That 2008 season, we won a national championship. I could barely even walk sometimes. There was a burning desire to get out there and be a part of it and help your team would. Not being able to do that was definitely rough."
ITG: What was it like to play for Urban Meyer?
Brown: "He was a great motivator. He wasn't a rah-rah coach, but he would say things to you that would make you think. He has a degree in psychology. He really understood what would get some guys to go. Everybody loved him, but he really understood how to get you to play. On Saturdays, guys were rocking and rolling. It was special.
"I have nothing but great things to say about coach Meyer. He was there for me through a lot of my injuries. He didn't give up on me. I really respect him for that. I know there's been a lot of things that came out after the fact about coach Meyer. But me personally, he's been there for me."
ITG: It seemed like there was a different dynamic on some of those Meyer teams. Maybe unique for a college setting?
Brown: "You had a lot of big-name players. In a sense, it felt like you were in an NFL locker room. The entire defense had an opportunity to play in the NFL. On the offensive side of the ball, you had one of the greatest players in college football ever to be playing with guys like Harvin, Louis Murphy. All of his receivers are in the NFL, the Pouncey twins.
"It was a culture of 'we're the best.' It was expect to win, instead of are we going to win? If you didn't blow out a team, it was, 'Guys, what's going on?' The mindset back then was we're going to dominate every single opponent. There was never 'that team's good' or 'I don't know what we're going to do this week' or 'how can we game plan?' We were going to do what we were going to do and that's it. Back then, I never heard someone ask how can we stop this or 'oh their running backs are so good.' I never heard those conversations. It was an expected dominance. We knew we were going to Atlanta instead of hoping we got to Atlanta.
"… Off the field, I don't know if the players necessarily were 'a real team.' It was a brotherhood and you love these guys, but it was on the field where those guys really came together and made it work. When it was go time, it was go time. Practices were very intense and it translated it to the field on Saturdays."
ITG: Your best individual season came in 2010. How personally rewarding was that year for you?
Brown: "It was great. It was my greatest moments as a player here at UF. Any time you go to Florida or any elite school, the dream originally is to be a starter in the SEC. To be able to go out and see my name on the jumbotron as a starter across from one of the greatest corners in the history of UF, to be able to get interceptions in the SEC, to be able to get out there in front of 90,000, it was special. It was a dream come true."
ITG: How did you handle the departure of Meyer?
Brown: "It was tough. It was definitely tough. Somebody that recruited you, knew my family. My friends got to know coach Meyer. We had a great close relationship. To see him leave, it was definitely tough. But I wish him nothing but the best. Ultimately, I know he's going to continue to be successful. He just has the 'it' factor. I'll be forever grateful for him sticking by my side through the lows of my career."
ITG: Did you feel like Will Muschamp was trying to bring a culture change when he first arrived at Florida?
Brown: "He's a little more in your face. He's a hell of a football coach. He's very intense. You don't get a name like 'Coach Boom' for nothing. He's very passionate about football. I don't think I've ever been around a coach who is as passionate about coach Muschamp. You could sense how bad he wants to win, how bad he wants to get it right. They say when coach Meyer left, Florida was broken. Coach Muschamp, this being his first head coaching job, he wanted to fix it. He wanted to get it right. He lived in the facility, first one in and last one out mentality. That's what he expected of his players."
ITG: You had to be excited about your chances in 2011 coming of spending 2010 as a starter. Contrast that feeling with the low of a preseason knee injury.
Brown: "Playing in 2010 after missing two years was an adjustment. Imagine taking two years off from anything and being thrown into an elite conference and being expected to go out there and perform at the absolute highest level. I got off to such a fiery start. I think I had three interceptions in four games. I didn't face adversity. Then we started losing and then toward the end of the season, I tweaked my hamstring. Just going through a full season was a big adjustment for me.
"Then for 2011, it was go time. I've got that first season under my belt. I had a great offseason, great spring. I was expected to go into the 2011 season a starter. I was ready to finally get into my own and create my own legacy and make that jump. Then I suffered a knee injury right before the season. You tell yourself, 'Here we go again.'
"I was never able to return to what I was my freshman year before the injuries. Those injuries took a toll on my body. After having serious back injuries and then a knee injury, it's tough. I rehabbed and tried to get back but was never able to get back to where I was. I'm very critical of myself and I'm very honest with myself. When you press play, you can see you're not the player you once were. You'd only be lying to yourself to say you were. To see that, your mindset changes."
Come back tomorrow for part two of our interview with Brown. Topics include changing the outlook of his time at Florida after the knee injury, taking a mentor role, the future stars of the Gators' locker room and much more.