SOUTH BEND – Chris Brown in many ways is similar to a shooting star. But the Notre Dame wide receiver has aspirations of being a star, period. And he appears to be on his way toward that goal.
The Fighting Irish junior burst onto the college football scene with a dramatic catch on national television two seasons ago, but then productively faded into the shadows. But he is building on a strong finish from the 2013 season and that momentum has carried over into training camp this fall.
“I’m just getting better and carrying that over from the spring,” Brown said after a recent Irish practice. “(The wide receivers) have put in a lot of work and I’m just reaping the benefits of that.”
But it is more than just hard work – though that has been critical – that has brought Brown on the precipice of having a breakout type season. He’s matured, learned from older players ahead of him and in the absence of top returning receiver DaVaris Daniels (academics) last spring semester; he seized the role of leader.
“It started with that we had a great mentor in (former Notre Dame receiver) TJ Jones,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “Chris saw the growth of TJ and has mirrored that.”
Brown was an obscure, but freaky fast freshman receiver in 2012, when he ran a deep route at a critical moment against top 10 team Oklahoma and made a nice grab for a mere 50-yard gain, which helped lead Notre Dame to an impressive national win during that magical season. But Brown only had one other catch that season.
Last year, he continued to progress as a player, but his 15 receptions with just one score were nice, but nothing scintillating. And then there was the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers.
“The guy has consistently been the best leader since January,” Kelly said. “He had a great bowl game.”
In that game, Brown had a career-best five catches and when Daniels showed poor judgment in the classroom and was booted from school, Brown took over the receivers’ room.
“When DaVaris wasn’t with us, Chris really, by de facto, was the veteran of that group,” Kelly said. “He was put in a leadership position in the spring and really kind of took off.”
Brown has always had the ability to “take off.” He was the nation’s best triple-jumper as a junior at Hanahan (S.C.) High School and ran a 10.81 in the state track meet his single season. But the track wasn’t where his heart was.
“I still think about track sometimes, but football is my first love,” Brown said. “I don’t love individual accolades, I love to be with a team and getting better.”
He certainly is doing that.
Brown has made becoming more versatile a priority of his. He doesn’t want his name called by Kelly or Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock simply for long routes, he wants to be able to run – and catch – on any particular type of route.
“Chris was clearly (opening week of camp) our best receiver, consistently,” Kelly said. “Route running, releases, he still has to be more consistent in catching the football, but clearly he was our best guy.”
Touchdown Chris Brown! Rees has 5 touchdowns to 5 different receivers, wow. 38-10 Irish, this is Notre Dame Football.— Notre Dame Football (@GoFightinIrish) October 26, 2013
The surface matters
Speed guys like Brown will see the most benefits of the new field turf that was installed at Notre Dame Stadium this summer, and Kelly grasped that as much as anyone.
“It was (installed) simply for competitive reasons,” Kelly said. “We felt that the surface, at times, did not allow us to play as fast as we needed to.
“If you are working so hard to put your football team together and your surface at home is really not where it needs to be, then you need to make those changes.”
The Irish will move from the LaBar Practice Complex to the stadium for today’s workout, which will happen with regularity this fall, but not exclusively.
LaBar allows Notre Dame to spread out over three fields to get work in, while obviously, the stadium has just one. But it’ll still be a positive in Kelly’s mind.
“We do like to break up and have more room for our individual work,” Kelly explained. “But clearly, we want to get much more familiar with our stadium and comfortable with the environment.”