On a busy Monday afternoon at Brown’s Store on Avon Street, Kim Brown is packing up a tray of fried chicken and her husband is ringing up customers at the register. It would be just another day were it not for the presence of the tall young man with braids standing behind the counter, looking a little out of sorts.
Dividing time between sports and working for his parents is something Mike Brown Jr. has done his whole life, starting at an age when he needed a milk crate to see over the counter. In a few days, he will be where he belongs, on a football field, but for the time being he’s back at the store. The former Monticello High School quarterback is participating in the Jacksonville Jaguars training camp, hoping to earn a spot on the team’s final 53-man roster. He tried out for the team in early May and was signed to a three year, non-guaranteed contract as a wide receiver, a position he played at Liberty University for two seasons, before he moved back to quarterback, the position he prefers. The stakes are high (the average NFL receiver makes over $1 million per year) and the odds, even at this point, are long, but Brown has not made it this far without a strong sense of his own destiny and a commitment to his parents’ investment in his career.
“It takes a lot of work to get where I’ve gotten thus far and it’s going to take a ton more to get where I want to be,” he said.
Brown has been a remarkable athlete from an early age, an all-everything kind of kid who excelled at every sport he tried.
“He was always a standout, even at 5 years old,” his father recalled. “He was fairly quick, learned fast, and had a good arm.”
But it’s his work ethic, his father believes, that has gotten him his shot at a professional football career.
“The three sports keep you busy,” Mike Sr. said. “And then we’d get him in the store and put him to work when he had some free time. I think that’s why he played so many sports,” he laughed.
The Browns reoriented their lives around their son’s pursuit of his dream, covering for each other at the store to make his high school games and ultimately selling the market when he entered Liberty. They only opened the new location last year with one season left in Brown’s college career. Many important milestones were spent at games or on the road.
“One of my anniversaries I got by on just buying a hotdog at a baseball game,” Mike Sr. said.
Of course, the subject of their attention had to merit the devotion. Brown was disciplined with school and conditioning.
“When all those kids were on their PlayStations playing shoot ’em up games, he was always working on his game,” his mother added.
“I feel like I owe it to them for all the things they sacrificed,” Brown said.
Whether it’s God at work (as the Browns believe), or simply good fortune, things lined up again this spring when his wide receiver coach at Liberty—Charlie Skalaski—was hired by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Although Brown went undrafted as a quarterback, Skalaski rec-
ommended him for a tryout at wide receiver with a team that ranked 30th in the league in receiving last year. So far he has impressed, with one coach reportedly comparing him favorably to Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker.
If he’s able to make the next cut, Brown will appear in the Jaguars’ first preseason game August 10. After the third week of preseason the team’s roster will be cut to 75 players, then to 53. If he doesn’t make the roster and can’t catch on with another team within two years, Brown said he’ll likely get into coaching. If not, he also has a business degree to fall back on.
“He’s got a plan,” his father said. “I think that was one reason he played three sports. You never put all your eggs in one basket.”
Next week, his parents will be here, running the store, but their hearts will be in Jacksonville. They’ve already made plans to attend the first preseason game there, but regular season games might be more difficult to take in. “I’d like to make them all,” said Mike Sr. “But I’d better get Direct-TV just in case.”
That’s if their son makes the team. Brown takes a professional athlete’s view when asked if it bothers him that he might end up with little to show for his earlier successes.
“Every day you’re fighting for your job and everything that you’ve ever dreamed of, so there’s definitely motivation,” he said. “It’s nerve wracking, but I love to compete, and that’s what I’ve always loved to do.”