Bernard Brown doesn?t ever quit.
Well, there was one time he wanted to. It wasn?t in 1998 when, in week 10 at Georgia Southern, the then sophomore cornerback broke his ankle. Nor did Brown quit when he broke his hip preparing for spring football in 2001 after he opted to redshirt in 2000 to add leadership to this season?s young secondary.
That time of self doubt was when he was six and playing pee-wee football. He begged his father, Norris, to let him play, and eventually, Brown got his way. Practice and workouts at the tender age made Brown question his drive to play football, but his father didn?t allow it. Not letting his son quit after begging him for so long may have been a parent?s way of saying, “Oh, no. You?re not going to quit after pestering me for so long, just because it?s hard.” But it could be the reason why Brown refused to quit after two devastating injuries.
“The only time I ever quit was my first year, when I was six playing little league football. I begged my dad for years to play ball,” Brown said. “I was doing exercises and it hurt. And my dad told me not to quit, ?You begged me all these years, and now you want to quit??”
Now, almost 22, Brown has spent the last 16 years consumed by a driving force that keeps him pushing himself to continue.
“It?s just determination. I always have something to prove to myself, not to other people but only to myself,” he said.
In 1997, after strong performances as a backup cornerback, Brown won the starting job for the final six games of the season while still a true freshman. In his sophomore year, Brown made his first of five career interceptions against Valparaiso taking the ball 45 yards for a touchdown. However in week 10, after starting each of the previous games, Brown suffered a season ending injury with a broken ankle.
“My first injury, when I broke my ankle, that was just scary,” Brown said.
Scary for Brown because after starting 16 out of 19 games, he was confident about his ability to play and not ready to have that taken away from him. Quitting was never in the thoughts of Brown, and he returned from a the injury in 1999 to start all 11 games at corner.
“I feel that I must show myself that I am mentally and physically tough, and I can overcome any obstacle put in front of me. That?s my mentality,” Brown said.
Brown spent the 2000 season as a redshirt so he could bring his experience to a team that lost four starting members of the secondary.
Then for the first time since he was six, Brown questioned his desire to come back and play football. While preparing to return to his starting corner position in 2001, Brown broke his hip.
“When it first happened, I questioned why. I?m doing all the right things. I sat out for a season to help the team and to get more education. I sat out for all the right reasons and I was doing what I was supposed to. I wasn?t playing any other sport or horse playing or doing things that I wasn?t supposed to be doing.
“With my hip, I was out there doing a little extra training on my own, trying to improve myself after redshirting, trying to get my footwork down and such. It was just a freak accident.”
Sophomore defensive back Kenny Robinson was training with Brown the day he broke his hip.
“It?s very hard what he went through,” Robinson said. “Just the look on his face ? he looked shattered.”
Robinson attributed Brown?s recovery to hard work and desire.
“(A player comes back) because you play for teammates and being around everyone. Not wanting to miss that time on the field battling with them,” said Robinson. “Because you don?t want to be on the sideline while your team is on the field struggling for a win.”
And Brown is one of those players who doesn?t like to sit out of anything. He didn?t want to lose a step in his ability to perform.
“I felt like it set me back. I had a lot of doubts about myself at first because it was so dramatic. I didn?t know why it happened. I prayed a lot about it,” said Brown.
Brown is now discovering his role on this year?s team. He planned to be captain while redshirting last season, but his injury before spring practices put a damper on those hopes. He returned as a starter against Pittsburgh, eight months after breaking his hip. And he has brought his experience. He?s been a starter in 27 games of his career. He has joined a strong rotation of cornerbacks along with Robinson, sophomore Ron Hemmingway and junior Maurice Tucker.
“The whole secondary is real strong. And Bernard just adds to that. That he was able to return, when he wasn?t expected to play, that?s awesome,” USF coach Jim Leavitt said.
He returned to his position with a game highlight against Pittsburgh when he broke up a pass keeping the Panthers from scoring a two-point conversion.
“It?s given us a lot of motivation because Bernard wasn?t supposed to come back,” said Hemmingway. “To see a person work so hard and have it pay off it means a lot.”
However, after coming back from a potentially career ending injury, Brown has not only returned to the football team ? he has earned his starting job back. He has been leading by example not only through his return to the starting roster, but through his determination to continue ? his refusal to quit.
Jarrett Guthrie covers football and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org