Rising to the challenge

Javain Brown has emerged as a leader on USF’s back line this season. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/GOUSFBULLS

Defenders seldom score goals. 

So when they do, it’s a big deal.

But in the case of sophomore Javain Brown, his contributions to USF men’s soccer have come at both ends of the field. Most recently, he’s been on the scoring end.

Brown hadn’t scored a goal in his collegiate career until Sept. 27 when he scored the game-winner against UConn in the 81st minute. 

Four days later, he scored the only goal in a win over Florida Gulf Coast.

Brown dismissed his game-winning heroics in favor of attributing his goals to a team effort.

“I mean, it’s not just me, it’s the whole team,” Brown said. “Coach [Bob Butehorn], he said set pieces are going to win games sometimes.”

Butehorn doesn’t normally recommend his defenders get forward and make attempts on goal. In fact, he sparingly tells Brown to make forward runs.

“No, not for my own health, no I don’t do that,” Butehorn joked.

But in Brown’s case, Butehorn sees his eye for goal as more of a boon than a liability.

“I think it’s just another piece of his arsenal that makes him a pretty good player,” Butehorn said.

Vision for scoring goals, a team-oriented mentality and professional experience are the ingredients of an on-field leader. And Brown proved he has what it takes to be a leader even before his time at USF.

In his final three years of high school, Brown captained the Kingston College soccer team.

“It was a difficult process because it was a whole new coaching staff and they were looking up to me to lead,” Brown said. “It wasn’t easy, but I just had to stay focused and keep my group together.”

After high school, Brown played professionally in his native Jamaica with Harbor View FC and Santos FC Kingston. He left his home country to play for USF in 2018. In March, Brown signed with USL League Two side Treasure Coast Tritons, which only plays in the summer.

Brown also plays for the Jamaican national team and has seen his fair share of international action. Most recently, Brown was called up to the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup squad.

During his time with Jamaica, Brown rubbed shoulders with some Reggae Boyz veteran players, including current Jamaica captain and Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Andre Blake. 

Jamaica’s senior players, most notably Blake, who played for UConn from 2011-13, offered Brown career advice.

“They told me, ‘As long as you stay focused, and do what you’ve got to do it’s going to pay off one day,’” Brown said.

Professional defenders like Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk often play aggressively and try to connect with set pieces as much as possible. Brown said he studies them carefully. 

It’s a work of art when they score, according to Brown.

“It’s beautiful for them,” Brown said. “Because they’re very determined.”

Brown sees what the pros are doing and uses it as motivation to use his head in the box.

“When I go up I need to really go for that ball,” Brown said. “I did it twice and it paid off. I have to just continue to do what I have to do.”

Playing professionally and representing one’s country before 20 may seem like a lot of weight on a player’s shoulders — a lot is expected of a player, especially with the pedigree of being a leader.

But the leadership role that began at Kingston College has stuck with Brown ever since.

“After you have that leadership role … it’s just in you from there,” Brown said.

His commanding presence has followed him to USF’s back line, and he finds himself in the important position of commanding his fellow defenders.

Freshman defender Salvatorre Mazzaferro attested to Brown’s leadership role in the back line. The connection between the three center backs — Mazzaferro, Brown and sophomore Marcus Murphy — has helped Mazzaferro develop as a player.

“Javain is really hard on me on the field, but honestly, I tell him to go hard on me,” Mazzaferro said. “It’s a great learning experience and he’s taught me a lot … and I thank him for it.”

Butehorn described Brown as being a player the team can rely on and said he brings a professionalism to the team that allows it to play to its strengths.

“He’s kind of showing some leadership at times,” Butehorn said. “His athleticism helps us and overall, his personality helps us play the way we want to play.”

A leader on the back line is essential for organized teams. It may not look the flashiest, but a rock in the defense often leads to success.

As the great former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson put it, “Attack wins you games, defense wins you titles.”

Brown seems to have adopted that mindset and applied it to the way he plays.

“You’ve got to demand things out of your teammates,” Brown said. “The most disciplined defenses always win titles. That’s where we’ve got to be.”