The intriguing story of Bryce Brown — a story of failed promise — isn't over yet. It might, in fact, just be getting started. Football fans in Tennessee and Kansas see Brown as an enigma, and for good reason.
The Philadelphia Eagles see a modest gamble with a nice upside.
Bryce Brown, 6-0, 220, 4.37 in the 40....
Brown, the former top-ranked national recruit, former one-and-done Vol and former flop at Kansas State, will get a chance to chase his NFL dream after all.
The Eagles selected Brown in the seventh round last Saturday, the 229th pick of the 2012 draft, an investment based on potential rather than production.
"To have an organization go out on a limb for me, especially with the things that have been said about me, that means a lot,'' Brown said during an interview on the Eagles' website.
It was telling that the interviewer didn't even know enough about the off-the-radar Brown to have a clue what things might have been said about him.
"That I'm selfish, that I'm not committed to the team,'' Brown said, filling in the blanks. "That's far from the truth … I'm all in with the team.''
He wasn't at Tennessee. After rushing for 460 yards as a freshman in 2009, he quit the following spring shortly after new coach Derek Dooley arrived to replace Lane Kiffin. He wasn't at Kansas State. After sitting out 2010 with the Wildcats, he failed to crack the starting lineup in 2011 and quit in September, having gained 16 yards on three carries.
"He isn't the bad guy people are making him out to be,'' former adviser Brian Butler told the Kansas City Star in an interview prior to the draft. "He is holding himself accountable for his decisions with all these teams. He is training every day.''
Brown, who dropped out of Kansas State last winter, trained in Tennessee, Miami and his hometown Wichita, according to the KC Star. His agent, Eric Armstead, said "more than 20'' NFL teams expressed some level of interest and that the Eagles, Lions and Chiefs held private meetings.
"Of all the teams and places I've gone,'' Brown told the Eagles' website, "I told my parents I felt the most comfortable in Philadelphia. It worked out fine.''
The Eagles were impressed that K-State coach Bill Snyder allowed Brown to participate in the school's Pro Day. They were further impressed when the 6-foot, 220-pound Brown ran a 4.37 40-yard dash.
"We spent a lot of time evaluating this kid,'' Eagles coach Andy Reid told reporters. "He's had kind of a wild ride through college football since being the number-one running back coming out of high school.''
That's an understatement.
Brown, who rose to fame at Wichita East High School, initially committed to Miami. But then he signed with UT's new coach, Kiffin. In 2009, Brown played a prominent role in support of starter Montario Hardesty. His talent was obvious. His future in Neyland Stadium was bright.
But Brown would later claim he never fit in at UT. He failed to show up for spring practice under Dooley, then ultimately asked for his release to transfer to Kansas State for family-related reasons.
"My daddy made the decision, that it would be best if I came home, so I did,'' Brown told the Eagles' website.
Dooley denied the release. The Browns appealed and were again denied. Brown's father, Arthur Brown Sr., hired Knoxville attorney Greg Isaacs to help the cause but UT never budged. In sworn affidavits presented by Isaacs to UT on the Browns' behalf, Bryce claimed depression and that he immediately realized Knoxville was too far from home. He also claimed he didn't fit in with his teammates, citing "a range of activities" including the armed robbery involving fellow freshmen Mike Edwards, Nu'Keese Richardson and Janzen Jackson.
Without a release from UT, Brown was not able to receive athletic financial aid while he sat out per NCAA transfer rules, at Kansas State in 2010.
He was on scholarship to start 2011, alongside brother Arthur Jr., a linebacker, but quit with little or no explanation by the end of September. "It just didn't work out,'' Brown said, "so I decided to leave and chase my dream to play at the next level."
"I did that and now I'm here.''
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said he pulled the trigger on Brown in the final round rather than get into an anticipated bidding war in free-agency.
"I spoke to a couple of teams,'' Roseman told reporters, "who said, 'why did you have to draft him?' and I kind of probed a little bit and it was because they thought they could get him as a free agent.''
Using a draft pick is a serious investment. The club did its homework.
"When you speak to Lane Kiffin, he just says this guy was going to be a star,'' Roseman said. "We spent enough time with him to get his full story and to feel comfortable with that.'' Roseman said the fact that Snyder allowed Brown to participate in K-State's Pro Day was significant.
"For him to be comfortable enough to have Bryce come back meant that he feels Bryce was very sorry for the way he handled things,'' said Roseman. "That meant a lot to all of us.'' Reid said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg signed off on the pick, as did running backs coach Ted Williams.
"You're talking about a kid,'' said Reid, "who is an inch under 6 foot, and is 220 pounds and who runs a 4.4 forty. You're talking about tremendous, tremendous skills here. He catches the ball effortlessly and is a smooth, smooth runner.
"He has all the talent in the world. It's just a matter of trying things down here.''
It is an opportunity for which Brown is especially thankful in light of his sketchy portfolio.
"It makes me want to go out and work even harder for those guys and prove everybody wrong,'' he said, "and make them feel like they made the right decision. I'm not going to let anybody in that organization down.''
A couple of other organizations have heard that before.
Brown turns 21 in 9 days, an adult about to enter the professional world. They say a running back only has so many carries in him before the wear and tear break his stride. In that case, Brown has one thing going for him: He's starting his new chapter with fresh legs.
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