Brown is a throwback, a rugged competitor. He hadn’t played in a game since breaking a bone in his leg on Saturday, November 5th against Vanderbilt – less than two months ago. He wasn’t even able to practice on Wednesday because of the pain. Go back five years and he wasn’t supposed to be able to break his way into the Florida depth chart.
“If there’s a poster or there’s someone out there that says Florida Gators I want his mug right there,” Coach Urban Meyer said afterward. “I want people to see Vernell Brown; he’s what we stand for. We don’t stand for five stars, we don’t stand for highly-recruited guys that maybe get too much credit, we don’t stand for the guys that come out early, that’s not what Florida is all about. Florida’s football is about a guy that outworks his opponent and is maybe the underdog and he’s a fighter. He will fight you until he can’t fight no more.”
Brown came to the University of Florida well-schooled. He comes from an outstanding family. His father, former Florida player Vernell Brown Sr. and mother Valarie are well-respected members of the Gainesville community.
He was a phenomenally talented athlete for the Purple Hurricanes of Gainesville High School. Despite standing 5-8, he was named Class 5A first team all-state quarterback. He was the point guard on the GHS state champion basketball team. That 5-8 165lb frame kept Brown from accumulating more than a star or two on various recruiting watch lists.
Big mistake. You can’t measure heart.
“You know, it’s amazing how the Lord works,” Meyer said. “It’s amazing how life works. To Vernell Brown, that ball hit him right in the numbers for a reason. That young man, everybody in the country should see that. If that haven’t, they should see that. Vernell Brown is a guy that was told you can’t do this, you can’t do this, broke his leg, told he won’t be back. He looked me in the eye with tears in his eyes and said he’d be back for the bowl game. And he was back for the bowl game and played his heart out, played the entire game and obviously intercepted one for a touchdown.”
Florida cornerback Vernell Brown (16) outruns Iowa's Clinton Solomon (88) on a 60-yard interception return during the second quarter in the Outback Bowl NCAA football game Jan. 2, 2006 in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
It wasn’t easy. It was earned. But, what isn’t for a guy who steps out on the field against giants that can weigh twice as much and stand up to a foot taller.
“I went real hard Tuesday, than on Wednesday I couldn’t even practice because I was so sore,” Brown recalled. “There was definitely pain all week. Definitely. I thought that I’d have to re-tape my ankle (at halftime) because usually it swells up and the tape starts to hurt, but I ended up not having to do that. (Today) it didn’t start bothering me until the end of the third quarter.”
“I pretty much knew that I was going to get back (to play in the bowl game),” Vernell continued. “I just didn’t know how much I was going to play. I’ll tell you what, if you had asked me before the game if I was going to be able to play the whole game, I wouldn’t have been able to answer your question. The Lord was willing, and I was able to play the whole game. I had a good game and we came out with the victory.”
Based on Meyer’s comments about Brown this season, I asked if coaching might be of some interest to him in the future.
“Coaching is definitely something that I have on my mind,” Brown said. “At what level, I don’t have the slightest idea right now. But, I definitely wouldn’t mind coaching later down the line. Right now, I’m focusing on making it to the next level.”
Can you think of anybody who might be better apt to teach young men about life and football? I certainly can't.
Throughout the week leading to the game, Jeremy Mincey and Jarvis Herring said that having Brown in uniform would be an emotional lift. I doubt that even they had any idea just how important a role Brown played in today’s Florida victory. After the game everybody was emotional.
“It was definitely emotional (in the Florida locker room),” Brown stated. “Anytime that you’re putting on that Orange and Blue for the last time, it’s an emotional feeling. Each senior got up and said a little something to the team and the coaching staff. It was a great time and something that I’ll remember forever.”
Brown was asked about what Meyer’s post game comments meant to him.
“I guess a model player is a player that coaches hope for,” he said. “I really don’t think there’s anything nicer that a coach can say about a player, because when he calls you the face of this team he’s saying that you’re both the model citizen and model player. I don’t think there’s much more that a coach could say about you.”
His dedication to team, heart, toughness, work ethic, and competitive spirit are immeasurable and remain five star. Those are the things that set Vernell Brown apart. Those are the components that make Brown, The Face of Florida Football.