CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Andrew Brown arrived at Virginia three years ago as a highly touted recruit and the junior defensive tackle is finally living up to expectations.
The Cavaliers have opened the season with three losses, but Brown has been a bright spot with seven tackles in the opener and 3 1/2 tackles for loss in Saturday’s setback at Connecticut. He only had three career tackles for loss in 16 games before his effort against the Huskies.
“It felt great to be back in my groove again, you know just making plays, having fun,” the 6-foot-4, 290-pound junior said with a broad smile Monday.
Brown’s performance also included a sack, just the second of his career, six tackles, a fumble recovery and breaking up a pass attempt.
It’s the type of game Brown and the Cavaliers have waited a long time to see.
The coaching staff at Virginia, which plays Central Michigan (3-0) this week, hopes Brown continues to make his presence felt and that his teammates also start making more of an impact as they search for the first win under new coach Bronco Mendenhall.
Tabbed as a five-star recruit out of Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Virginia, Brown enrolled at Virginia in the January before his freshman year but has been slowed by injuries.
About halfway through spring practice after enrolling early he was sidelined by a turf toe injury. When the season began, a shoulder injury slowed him, and he didn’t get much chance to play. Last season was more of the same as he was on the field for just 182 snaps, making six tackles.
“The process has been difficult but humbling,” Brown said. “It’s just made me realize, it’s time to work, nothing’s going to be given to me … It’s a whole new level, a whole new scheme, and a whole new process. Once I got hurt and things like that, I just had to humble myself, get back to ground zero and build myself back up again.”
Mendenhall made it a point to conduct his own evaluations of players when he arrived last December, and in Brown he found a player with intriguing tools, but not a whole lot of playing experience.
“I think he’s very, very capable, and much like the other seven or eight players out there defensively that are getting a lot of experience, he’s growing consistently,” Mendenhall said. “One of the differences with Andrew, though, is he just has the size and speed and play-making ability to, when he does his job correctly and/or he’s at the point of attack, he really stands out as a playmaker.”
Brown has acknowledged needing to improve his work ethic when he arrived at Virginia, and said his attitude suffered last year when the Cavaliers were stumbling top a 4-8 record and he was mostly watching from the sideline.
Teammate Mark Hall, who moved from linebacker to defensive end this season, also hails from Virginia’s Tidewater region and has known Brown since they were young children. Seeing his buddy returning to his high school All-American form, Hall said, is helping the Cavaliers.
“We just had to build his confidence up and tell him he’s a great player. His accolades speak for themselves,” Hall said “He’s probably one of the quickest defensive linemen in the nation … and he’s willing to work hard.”
Seeing it pay off, Brown said, makes it all the more sweet.
“I feel like now with this new coaching staff, I’m able to be myself again,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to have many opportunities on the field, and I’ve played more than I’ve ever played in like two years. I feel great.”
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