STORRS, Conn. — Freshman Brayden Brown, former Fort Hill two-time Area High School Football Player of the Year, will make his first college start at safety on Saturday for the University of Connecticut Huskies when they play Temple University at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. Game time is noon.
Brown becomes the latest true freshman to become a starter in the UConn secondary, stepping in for Brice McAllister, who will have surgery on his hand today and miss a few weeks, according to a report in the Hartford Courant.
The Huskies (1-4 overall, 0-3 American Athletic Conference) are coming off a Friday night 70-31 loss to Memphis, a game that UConn was in before turning in a second half that head coach Randy Edsall referred to as “embarrassing.”
On Tuesday, Edsall, who returned as the head coach of Connecticut after leaving to take the University of Maryland head coaching job, where he recruited and signed Brown’s former Fort Hill teammate, former two-time Area Player of the Year Ty Johnson, said of the constant shuffling in his lineup, “We’ve got to find the right guy. You play the cards you are dealt. Other guys have had their opportunities and haven’t taken advantage. As a coach, you’ve got to take a look and say, ‘If that guy’s not getting it done, do you have somebody else on your roster?’ I’ve demonstrated it when I was here before and now coming back, that if you don’t perform you’re not going to be out there ...
“Or sometimes guys just aren’t good enough. And so what you do is try to find guys who are good enough. I’d love to have the same 11 starters all the time, but our situation isn’t dictating that right now.”
Twenty-seven players have made their UConn debut this season and Edsall has worked freshmen in and out of the lineup from the start in trying to get a reboot on the Huskies’ fortunes. One of those freshmen is Brown, who has seen significant playing time already, but who will make his first start at safety Saturday at Temple.
“You know, Brayden comes from a program,” Edsall told reporters on Tuesday, “if you guys ever have the opportunity to go down to Fort Hill High School and catch a game down there, okay? Todd Appel, the coach there — and I’ve recruited two kids from that school — and I’ll tell you one thing, if you talk about a gentleman who runs a program and with the accountability that football is important and all, and that community and everything, I mean that thing is unbelievable to go there and watch them play Allegany, their crosstown rival, at the end of the season and see all of those people out there.
“And it doesn’t surprise you that kids like (Brown) and another young man I recruited from there (Johnson), that they are the way they are, because they are held accountable. They have a tremendous work ethic in that program, and when you get guys like that, you not only feel good about them going on the field, they’re going to give you everything they have.
“It might not always be perfect to start, but they’re going to give you everything they have because that’s the culture they’ve been brought up in. That’s the culture they’ve been brought up in.”
For Brown’s part, he told reporters he had an idea he might be the next man up at safety before he returned to Cumberland last Saturday to see Fort Hill’s 56-6 win over Serra Catholic. He found out for certain he was when the Huskies began preparation for Temple on Tuesday.
“They told me I’m with the ones this week,” Brown told reporters, “so I’m going to bury myself watching film and I’m thankful for that.”
When asked what his first collegiate start will mean to him, Brown said, “I think every freshman in the country, when you go to a big-time college, you know, the big change comes and everybody is a little bit wary to see how things will go ... But to see the playing time as a freshman let alone start, I mean, that’s amazing. That’s something you don’t expect. But you work hard for it and you hope to hang in there, and I’m ready to go.”
Brown said that every day since his arrival to UConn has been a day of learning and adjusting.
“I think the biggest thing in coming from high school to college is the speed of the game,” he said, “and you know some formations and you’re reading your key, but, really, the upperclassmen have helped (all of the freshmen) a lot. Brice McAllister helped me out all summer (making sure) I was always in the playbook every night with him when we got home after practices. And seeing (other) freshmen have some success, it tells me that it’s not impossible and I can get in there and can contribute to the team and I can make an impact.”
When reporters asked Brown if playing at Fort Hill had helped him prepare for the college game, he said, “Oh, yes, definitely. Coach Appel, he’s basically like a father figure to every player that comes through the program. And discipline ... he has the same values that Coach Edsall has, and accountability, and just making sure that we take responsibilities for our actions. Whether the outcome is good or bad for us, we take responsibility for that and I think that coming through Fort Hill really helped me out a lot with preparing for college.”
Brown made a point to say he had some other very influential guidance while he was at Fort Hill.
“One person who has helped me out a lot is Ty Johnson,” he told reporters. “He’s at Maryland, he’s a running back and he’s having a good year. He’s having a good career and he was kind of my mentor when I was a freshman and sophomore (at Fort Hill), and he was an older guy who always called me and said, ‘Hey, you want to work out?’ and always made sure I was never satisfied with my ability. So he was a big factor in my getting the chance to play here.”
When he was asked what his feelings would be coming out of the tunnel on Saturday to make his first college start, Brown said, “Bittersweet, I think. It’s something you always dream about since you were little and six years old in pee wee and is always a dream. Now it’s a reality. So it’s going to be good. But I think I have to remember to keep playing the game for the reasons I played it in elementary school. I love to play.”
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeCTN.