The father of the state’s No. 1 overall football prospect, James Brown, remembers a time when his son was bullied by older kids and even those that were smaller than him.
Those days are long gone for Derrick Brown, the 5-star defensive tackle from Lanier High School. Brown is chiseled at 6-foot-4 and 322 pounds.
“Being the big kid in class, Derrick was always looked at as a giant, but he really is a gentle giant instead of the bully,” his mother, Martha Brown, said.
“When he was getting picked on, he quickly metamorphosed into this big kid,” his father James said. “He took a lot of his frustrations out on the field. When he was younger and played in rec leagues, a lot of people doubted him and his abilities. He came into his own and used that to his advantage.”
Brown isn’t doubted anymore. He is now lauded as the state’s No. 1 prospect, and for good reasons, too.
As a junior at Lanier High School, he racked up 101 tackles, 17.5 sacks, 26 tackles for loss and 12 quarterback hurries. He is being pursued by some of the best college football programs in the country. He named his five official visits last week, selecting UGA, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee and Mississippi State.
No matter which school he chooses on National Signing Day, Derrick has already received his family’s blessing.
“The coaches on the list that he has narrowed down have been pretty sincere with how they feel about him,” James said. “To be honest with you, I don’t think he can lose. It’s a win-win situation for him as to who he picks.”
Early on in his recruiting process, Derrick named UGA his favorite college. He backed off of that in May because he said he wanted to give every school a fair chance.
If you ask his parents about their opinion on Mark Richt, they just light up.
“He is a subdued type of guy,” James said. “He seems like a good Christian man. He tries to make sure that he runs his program on the straight and narrow. He has high expectations for his players on and off of the field, and I like that.”
Said Brown’s mother: “I just enjoy his (Richt’s) presence. When he talks to us, I feel like he is sincere about Derrick’s career if he chooses to go to UGA and also sincere about building a long-term relationship.”
Despite their affinity for coach Richt, Brown’s parents say every coach is even right now. They don’t have any favorites. They do have a memorable visit to one school, though.
When they traveled to Tennessee for an unofficial visit, they weren’t treated like a regular family from Buford. They felt like they were treated like the Royal family.
As soon as the Browns pulled up to Tennessee’s facilities, there was a crowd waiting.
“The entire coaching staff, well, it seemed like everybody in the athletic department was waiting at the curbside with umbrellas waiting for us to show up because it was raining,” James said. “I was taken aback by that.”
Said Martha: “I was caught off guard. They were just saying “we don’t want you guys to get wet.”
The Tennessee visit exceeded expectations to say the least. Everything from walking inside Neyland Stadium to hearing about the school’s business program (Derrick is planning on studying business marketing), the family was happy about it all. Martha is a big basketball fan and she was particularly ecstatic to see the statue of legendary women’s basketball coach Pat Summit.
About basketball: You would think that the state’s best high school football player would have always loved the sport he is so known for. As it turns out, that is not the case.
Martha says her son actually hated sports growing up. Once he started to get into them, basketball was his first love.
Derrick didn’t start playing football until he was 9 years old. He and his dad would see kids playing in local parks, and the family decided to sign him up for a recreational league.
“Everyone wanted Derrick on their team because of his size,” his dad said. “The rest was history after his rec league days.”
But it wasn’t until he got to high school where his family knew he was something special.
“He came on in the spring of his ninth grade year,” James said. “He told me that he was going to get a position on the football team. I didn’t think it was possible, but I wanted him to give it his best effort. He was on varsity at the end of his ninth grade year. He was about 6-foot-3, 270 or 275 pounds at the time.”
Before Derrick was a star player in the Atlanta area, the family lived in Starkville, Miss. They moved when Derrick was 3 years old.. Starkville happens to be the home of Mississippi State, which is the same SEC school that both James and Martha graduated from.
When Derrick released his list of official visits last week, he paid homage to his parents by including Mississippi State in a group of traditional SEC powerhouses.
But Derrick wants people to know that he is truly considering the Bulldogs — of Mississippi State.
“That’s where my parents found themselves growing up,” Brown told the AJC. “I want to see for myself what they found so special about the college. I’m looking forward to going back to where I’m from and checking out the campus.”
The Browns still have family in Starkville today. They say they would be thrilled if Brown decided to play for their alma mater, but they aren’t pressuring him into any school. As his mom says, “this is Derrick’s life.”
The colleges coaches all seem to be impressed with Derrick’s character, and shower his parents with compliments.
His family says they are looking for a coach with the same high character that Derrick possesses, along with the desire to create a lifelong friendship.
Said his father: “We want someone that is firm and fair. We want someone that has an interest in Derrick outside of just playing football. We want his future coach to develop a life-long relationship with him. If you go to a school, you are always going to be associated with the program. We want him to have a good relationship with the coaches and teammates because you are an ambassador for the university while you are playing and when you are finished.”
The Brown family says the recruiting process really hasn’t been that crazy, except for the times where mom has to bring a U.S. Postal Service bin to the post office to pick up all of Derrick’s college letters.
His dad says they keep every single letter. They have stacks of crates at home that stand about five feet tall.
They say those letters serve as a reminder of how lucky their son is to walk out of college debt free with a good education.
“I told Derrick that it’s either football or he’s joining the Marine Corps,” his father laughed.
Derrick has nothing to worry about there. He won’t be turning in his Lanier Longhorns jersey in for a Marines uniform anytime soon.
Now we just have to wait for which uniform he will wear when he announces his college decision in February.