ST. LOUIS Long before the tears, there was the dream.
It's a little before Jerry Brown's junior season at Vashon High in 2004, and the player has a message for his coach. It's more than a year before the two-time Public High League defensive MVP earns a team-high 97 tackles and 13 sacks as a senior. It's long before the St. Louis native turns down Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma and signs with Illinois, where then-coach Ron Zook once considered him a possibility for the Outland Trophy.
Before wearing Fighting Illini orange, before stints in the Arena Football League and Canadian Football League, before working to keep a career on the field alive, there was a vision.
"Coach," Vashon coach Reginald Ferguson recalls Brown telling him, "I'm going to make it to the NFL."
"Jerry," Ferguson said, "I believe so."
"Yeah, I am."
"If you make it to the NFL, I'm going to retire your jersey. I'll be ready. I'm going to do it."
The memory is one of many from Ferguson that tumble from the...