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July 3, 2013
As many fathers do, Andrew Brown, Sr. remembers vividly the day his son was born. And in the days and years between that occasion and the journey Andrew Brown began in earnest this past Saturday afternoon, the determination rarely ever waned.
The elder Brown remembers the doctor who delivered his son commenting that day about what was to come. Little could he have known how accurate his prognostication would turn out to be.
"Andrew was 24 inches long, he weighed 13 pounds," Brown, Sr. recalled. "The doctor said, 'Wow. This kid is going to play football!' From day one, that was out there. And I'm looking at him thinking, 'Yeah, I think so too.' He was just made for it."
A higher power may have given him the size but both Andrews had to play their roles. The father says he couldn't be more proud of the way his son, now a 6-foot-3, 298-pound defensive lineman bound for the University of Virginia, made the most of what he was given even when times were tough.
It wasn't always good, especially in December 2007 when the younger Brown lost his mother, Sonia Carter. In the pain and the loss, somehow he managed to still go about chasing his own dreams with a bright smile and a charismatic personality. But at times it was certainly a grind.
Brown, Sr. says Andrew over these last five years "has really, really worked hard for me and for himself." A a confident yet humble kid, his love of football began at an early age.
"He was four years old and he's out there playing with 7-year olds," his father recalled. "Andrew was still bigger than everybody."
Over the years, Andrew, Sr. served as an AAU basketball coach for his son as well as the line coach with the 757 Sports Academy. Whether on the sideline or watching from the stands, he saw his son mature.
"He played a lot of basketball and he played football at the same time so sometimes he was going to multiple practices at the same time," his father said. "He couldn't run. He never could run when he was younger. He'd go down the court and the other kids were already coming back. So there was that balance in there to keep him in shape, keep his stamina up."
By the time he was in the seventh grade, the younger Brown was already up to 6-foot, 277 pounds. The work continued as both father and son watched hour after hour of footage of the great defensive linemen and the not-so-great ones, too.
"We watched a lot of [Michael] Strahan," Brown said. "We watched a lot of Warren Sapp. And then there were high school players that we watched. We would watch Rivals at the time and we watched a lot of Sharrif Floyd then. We would keep watching high school players more than anything and look at the things they were doing wrong."
Though he says his son was blessed to be given the talent he has, a lot of detail and work went into honing his craft.
"The talent is there, some of it is certainly God given," Brown explained. "But you still have to work at it. It just doesn't happen over night. We worked 30-45 minutes per day just on his hands. Like right now, there's a pole in the backyard that is set up so that he can keep working on his hands. Staying out until 9- or 10-o'clock at night on the side of the house, running through cone drills, doing the speed ladders, holding candles as a matter of fact because it was the only thing I could find in the garage so he could swing and punch and club."
If the workouts were tough, the recruiting process was tougher, in large part because the Browns were very thorough. Brown, Sr. says he wanted his son to "get to know these people, to really know them" before he got too excited about picking a school.
And that's about the place in Brown's story where UVa head coach Mike London comes in. Ask the father why the son picked the Cavaliers over Alabama, Florida, Florida State, and Virginia Tech, among dozens of others, and he'll answer plainly.
"Mike London," the elder Brown said. "It was Mike London. I think a lot of it was getting to know him over time and building that relationship of trust. Plus he spoke to me and made some promises as a father, because it's a unique situation that I'm in because I was a single dad. So whereas a lot of the times coaches are really dealing with moms, now they were dealing with a dad. This time the relationship was totally different as far as the things we talked about, the things we discussed about our kids. It was just a different process."
It wasn't that long ago that the No. 1 defensive tackle in the country and the No. 7 overall player in the Rivals100 was thinking about taking official visits. But something changed when he came to Chicago for the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge in June. Spending time with other players, Brown began to appreciate the fact that he didn't need to take the trips.
"He got to Chicago and he talked to the other players and he got a consensus from different guys about visits and what they are and what they aren't," his father said. "And he started to think maybe that wasn't what he wanted to do because he didn't know how much he'd actually get out of it. It seemed like a waste of his time. I'm glad he came to that realization. This was all on him and he handled it very well, I think."
Shortly thereafter, the process rapidly began to shut down as the apparent choice became more and more clear. The Browns talked about it and the father says he wanted his son to make the decision of when to commit in his own time, much in the same way he made the decision to not take official visits.
"Maybe six months ago, we were looking at everything and comparing the different options to each other," Brown, Sr. recalled. "That was the main piece. [London] was always being upfront with us and honest with us. That never changed. We also watched a lot of different players who were going to Virginia. We wanted to see the ones who had gone to different universities and see what happened in their recruitments. We paid a lot of attention to what was going on across the nation, especially players from Virginia. When they went to school, what happened? Where are they now?
"The decision to commit just came with Mike London being able to talk him and to ask him questions and say, 'Are you with me? Do you want to be a part of this?' And no one really asked him those types of questions, approached him that way."
On Saturday, with plenty of family, friends, high school teammates, and future Virginia teammates gathered at their Chesapeake home, both Andrew Browns were all smiles. The father couldn't help but beam.
"I'm excited more than anything because this process is now over for him," he said. "It's been very stressful for him. Travel, trying to get to different places, coaches calling all the time. Trying to balance everything was difficult because that's not a normal part of somebody's life. That's a whole other added dimension."
As the recruit now becomes the recruiter with eyes on other five- and four-star players, what kind of message might Brown, Sr. deliver when asked about the recruiting process?
"I have talked to more people, I tell you, but I don't think I'll become a recruiter or anything," he explained. "I just want all of the parents and kids, no matter what schools they're looking at, to understand what's going on when they're in this process, to understand that they really need to get to know these coaches. They really have to spend some time at the university where they want to be. They need to spend some time and get to know the players that are already there.
"You have to have that type of relationship. Do I fit in here? That was big for Andrew because fortunately, many of the guys that have gone to UVa are from here and they work out together and I've worked with a lot of those kids, with a lot of the linemen. These guys have the same kind of work ethic and that was a big piece, too. Because when we work out, there's no playing around. This is no joke. You're in it or you're not. In the end, it was an easy decision to make."
Though it's not him who will be heading to Charlottesville this January, you might not know it from his enthusiasm. Turns out the player and father share more than just the same name.
"Man, I'm ready to go right now!," the elder Brown said with a smile. "It's time to go to work."