Walk-on Bravo-Brown running with opportunity

USF receiver Stephen Bravo-Brown didn’t describe his improbable four-week ascent from freshman walk-on to impact receiver at a major Division I school as a blur.

He’s trying to enjoy every minute of it.

“I look at it more like a blessing,” he said. “That’s all I could really say about it.”

Bravo-Brown, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver from nationally renowned St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Ft. Lauderdale, had dreams of playing for USF growing up, but he didn’t receive a scholarship offer.

In fact, Bravo-Brown didn’t have a single Division I offer coming out of high school, where he said he may have gotten lost in the shuffle of great players.

Elite high school receivers – one of whom was former NFL Pro Bowl receiver Cris Carter’s son, Duron Carter – were getting more attention while playing for St. Thomas Aquinas, which won a state title during Bravo-Brown’s senior season.

“I started a few games,” Bravo-Brown said. “It was like a rotation kind of thing. Everyone got to play, but I didn’t rack up as much stats as they did. (At St. Thomas Aquinas), there was a lot of other talent, and I didn’t really get a chance to play as much.That’s the way it goes sometimes.”

While he had his sights set on playing Division I football after high school, Bravo-Brown never got an offer and said he needed a year at prep school to help jumpstart his college career.

With attention from I-AA Lafayette in Pennsylvania, Bravo-Brown said it never worked out, so he spent last fall at nearby Wyoming Seminary College Prep.

After excelling there, Bravo-Brown, still hoping to play at USF, took initiative and sent USF defensive ends coach Vernon Hargreaves an e-mail of his highlight tape and kept calling.

“He recruited us. I recruited him. We recruited each other,” Hargreaves said. “He was extremely persistent, which was good for us.”

“It was one of those deals where need met opportunity. I looked at his (film) and said, ‘You know what, the people he’s playing against aren’t great, but he’s doing a nice job.’ I had to at least let our wide receivers coach (Phil McGeoghan) take a look at him, and coach McGeoghan said, ‘Well, shoot, you know what, this guy has a chance.’ I told (Bravo-Brown) he had to get into school on his own because we don’t necessarily help guys as far as that stuff’s concerned. He did everything he had to do.”

Bravo-Brown attended summer workouts at USF, which gave him an early opportunity to mesh with quarterback B.J. Daniels and the other receivers.

McGeoghan said Bravo-Brown quickly picked up the offense during camp, acknowledging his work ethic, uncanny ability to retain information and poise for a young player.

“He’s a guy I can’t say enough good things about,” McGeoghan said. “He’s one of those guys you sit in a classroom environment and teach him something, but it doesn’t translate with young guys out on the practice field. Young guys usually get flustered when you start to go live and people are flying around and there are a lot of bodies everywhere and everyone’s yelling and screaming. I’ve seen him make a great adjustment to the college game from being a true freshman walk-on.”

Bravo-Brown, taking advantage of USF’s lack of depth at receiver, caught four passes for 48 yards in USF’s 59-14 opening game win against Stony Brook.

He also played a good amount against Florida, getting a taste of the challenge posed by one of the nation’s best secondary.

“He got banged around, but he also competed hard,” said USF offensive coordinator Todd Fitch. “I think that’s great teaching for him.”

With senior receiver Dontavia Bogan’s status in question for USF’s Saturday night game against Western Kentucky, Fitch said Bravo-Brown will have a big opportunity – and may even start.

“It’s not common, but I always say underclassmen have the opportunity to play because the upperclassmen give it to them,” USF coach Skip Holtz said. “If (Sterling) Griffin, (A.J.) Love, Bogan; if all those guys are out here, right now, we say Bravo-Brown’s got a chance to be a pretty good little player. But he’s being thrown to the forefront. It’s not real common for a guy to come in and make the type of impact he is, but it’s not real common to lose your top four receivers when you think they’re all supposed to come back. He’s been a pleasant surprise, a breath of fresh air, and I’m really glad he’s here right now.”

USF is without its top four receivers from last season, all of whom could be suiting up for the Bulls right now.

Carlton Mitchell, a junior last year, left school early for the NFL, while Love and Griffin suffered injuries in the offseason, requiring extensive rehab and forcing the coaching staff to do whatever they could to bolster the position.

“I just wanted to show the other guys that I could work hard, show them I was a good teammate,” Bravo-Brown said. “It wasn’t even about starting, it was showing the team I could play and be a good teammate to them.”

Bravo-Brown said he’s taken the opportunity to cherish his current role on the team by praying with sophomore receiver Bermanley Augustin, his mentor, before every game.

“It was always in my thoughts,” he said of becoming a Bull. “I just prayed about it and felt this was the best opportunity for me and my family.”