Penn State saga leads Brown to new life

OU wide receiver Justin Brown

NORMAN, Okla. — A year ago, wide receiver Justin Brown never could have guessed the situation he'd been in right now.

He was riding a high into his junior year at Penn State, set to be an every down starter after starting eight games his sophomore season and playing in all 13, while recording 33 catches for 452 yards.

And he was playing for one of the most legendary coaches in the history of college football in Joe Paterno.

But out came the allegations that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually abused several young children.

Then, came the Freeh report this summer which suggested Paterno essentially swept the situation under the rug.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) laid down the law on the Penn State program, banning it from bowl games for four years, cutting 40 scholarships for four years and fining the institution $60 million, among other penalties.

Any player would be permitted to transfer and play at another school immediately.

That opened the floodgates for what ensued, with player after player transferring.

Life as he knew it at Penn State was over.

"You know, everything happened so fast," Brown said. "This time last year everything was completely different."

Quarterback Rob Bolden (LSU), running back Silas Redd (USC) and place kicker Anthony Fera (Texas) were some of the first notables exiting the program.

Then, came Brown, who decided a transfer to head coach Bob Stoops' program at Oklahoma for a fresh start in his final year made the most sense for him instead of staying as a Nittany Lion.

"You know, it's a new chapter," Brown said. "It's only for one year, but life is about experiences. It's about making the best, so that's what I'm going to do."

There's undeniably a lot more that went into the decision than Brown himself wants to admit.

Perhaps the whole idea of being a part of such a tainted program and the restrictions it would involve forced him to make the move.

But it goes deeper than that, as he said a couple of factors played the most important role in him switching from State College to Norman.

Most importantly, his relative spot with respect to graduation and the fact that OU's program cooperates with Penn State's transfer credit requirements played a huge role.

"It wasn't about the bowl [ban] at all," Brown said. "Not to get too much into it, but it was just the opportunity. My credits--that played a big role. That probably played the biggest role. You know, if I had to take more than like 12 or 13 credits or if I had to come back in the spring here, then I wasn't going to come down here. I was just gonna stay up at Penn State."

Instead, he's close enough to walking across the stage--though he hasn't determined if he'll have enough time for that--and only needs one more semester of courses.

OU offers all the ones he needs.

Additionally, the Sooners were what he just called a "good fit."

"Yeah, I mean, I think I do [fit in]," Brown said. "This is a great team. It's a great group of people. You know, so they got a lot of personality and whatnot, so it's a great group to be around."

OU has a veteran, redshirt senior quarterback that's a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender in Landry Jones.

They were lacking a strong veteran receiver outside of Kenny Stills, who is still fairly unproven himself as far as a star is concerned.

Brown could step in right away and be the senior leader on this receiving corps.

"I mean, he's an experienced college football player," said co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Jay Norvell. "He's a guy that's been through it. He's been through three years of winter conditioning, summer training, played in big games. He's a senior and he kind of handles himself that way. He's very mature. He's very stable. He understands how to play. So, we're very excited to have him."

Admittedly, that's a conversation the two have had.

In fact, that's part of the conversation that sold the deal.

"Yeah, we definitely talked about that," Brown said. "You know, he felt like that was key with the young group. You know, so that's what I thought I could also bring into the group."

Because of that, there's a very good chance he could step right in and start alongside Stills.

Stills, who finished with 61 catches for 849 yards and eight touchdowns in 2011, is the only active returning Sooner with a reception--Jaz Reynolds and Trey Franks are both still suspended indefinitely.

Outside of him, Brown comes into the season as the player with the most catches and yards, with 35 and 517, respectively.

He also added a pair of touchdowns.

True freshmen Derrick Woods, Durron Neal, Sterling Shepard and expected star Trey Metoyer have all yet to step foot in a live game at the collegiate level, let alone at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

So, he could easily be in the starting rotation.

"He's gonna decide that," Norvell said. "I tell these guys all the time, we don't decide who starts. They do."

One of the challenges there will be adapting from a Big Ten style offense, which is slower paced and just now incorporating a lot of the spread intricacies of the Big 12, to the aforementioned Big 12 spread.

The Sooners, in particular, like to speed things up with the no-huddle, effectively catching opposing defenses off guard.

Maximizing the amount of plays with the efficiency of them is the goal here.

And Brown must get accustomed to that type of offense.

"I mean, there's a difference in style in the league, but good football players are good football players," Norvell said. "I mean, we're playing obviously a different style than he had a chance to play at Penn State. And I think he's excited about that. You know, that was one of the reasons that he wanted to come to Oklahoma is to get a chance to play with Landry Jones and play in our style of offense."

Sure, playing with Jones was a selling point and Penn State's offense is different.

But Brown wants to make it perfectly clear that it wasn't the ultimate factor.

"Well, actually Penn State, they were just transferring to a pass oriented offense," Brown said. "So, that's not really the key reason why I left and whatnot. But not to get too much into that, you know, it is a good offense here and it's just the more I grasp, the better it'll be off."

Getting back into the situation of him coming to OU amidst all the scandal revelations, it's a difficult circumstance for anyone to deal with, let alone a kid in his early 20's.

Up and change life as it's been for several years.

Forego a senior year at a university and travel somewhere else in order to start over.

Leave friends you've become brothers with for two, maybe three years.

Redd and cornerback Derrick Thomas, who transferred to Marshall, are two of those.

"I've talked to Silas," Brown said. "You know, he was my roommate. So, I talked to him. We talk like every [day]. I just talked to him last night actually, so just to check up on him. I talk to Derrick Thomas just to see how he's doing. Like I'm always going to talk to them. We've already built the bond for three years, so nothing's going to change."

He's also felt the wrath of the decision on Twitter.

Brown has received the occasional tweet of support, but more often he has been the target of Penn State fans' frustration telling him his transfer was a mistake and things of the sort.

People have even sent death threats his way on Twitter.

But he just shrugs those off.

"You know, it's Twitter at the end of the day," he said. "You tweet stuff. It's not like real life situations, somebody's outside my door. You know what I mean? It's Twitter."

Indeed, but death threats?

Quite forceful to deal with for someone who just decided to start a new life due to the most appalling of circumstances.

Reality these days, though.

His handling of the situation, however, exemplifies the maturity the coaching staff has raved about since his arrival.

Speaking of the coaching staff, perhaps one of the most interesting parts of Brown's whole story comes with respect to the one he left from to the one he joined.

He played for three years under the late Paterno, who Brown supports in saying he's still one of the most legendary coaches despite how he handled the scandal, to another major face on the college football landscape now, Stoops.

Even more interesting in that regard, Stoops and the Sooners never even recruited the former four-star wide receiver from Wilmington, Del.

He had seven major D-I offers, including the likes of the Pac-12‘s Oregon and fellow Big Ten member Iowa, among others, and got looks from the SEC and ACC as well.

But no Big 12 love.

Somehow, though, he was still attached to the Sooners throughout the whole process.

"I mean, I watch a lot of football," Brown admitted. "You know, I followed OU and I followed Coach Stoops since I was young. So, I was familiar with the program and whatnot for a long time. But, you know, they just showed the need and after doing some research, you know, that's what I went with."

Sooner Nation is undoubtedly jubilant that Brown kept an eye on OU despite not ever getting a single call from the coaching staff throughout his recruitment three to five years ago.

Because of that, he does provide that veteran need OU was so desperately looking for a few weeks ago.

"I can't say enough," Stoops said. "Looking out there today, when you see him added to the equation, a guy that's a senior that has three years experience in playing and fighting people, crack back blocking on people, catching the ball, he's a natural catching the football. So, he's gonna bring a ton. It's gonna be exciting."

And he even has the same number he donned in Penn State blue and white.

This time it'll be a Crimson and Cream No. 19.

Follow me at twitter.com/joeyhelmer10 or facebook.com/joeyhelmer.

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