The past several months have been a blur for John Brown, former All-American receiver for Pitt State who was drafted in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals.
“It’s been crazy getting to meet and talk to all of these big time players that I grew up watching on TV all the time,” Brown said. “It’s an honor to be on the field with them and learn from them.”
That includes being introduced to the game of golf by Larry Fitzgerald – seven-time Pro Bowler out of the University of Pittsburgh. (The one with the h.) To the speedster from “the other Pittsburg,” he’s just Larry.
“I went golfing with Larry, and we ended up laughing a lot,” said Brown. “That was my first time playing golf. I wasn’t very good. Larry’s been a great mentor already. He’s shown me around a lot, been to his house, been swimming at his house.”
In some ways, Brown always knew he’d be here. It was his dream to play in the NFL, and the guy who once upon a time was both too small and too slow to play anywhere isn’t one to give up on chasing dreams.
In other ways, however, the past few months have been a ride so surreal that it’s hard to believe it’s actually happening. It began on the evening of May 9, when he got the phone call he’s waited for his entire life.
“I was at home watching the draft, and I was telling my family that we’d probably have to wait until the next day to hear something,” Brown said. “Then I got a phone call, and it was the Cardinals. My heart was beating 100 miles per hour. I couldn’t really talk that much. Then I heard my name called at the draft.”
Brown was the 91st pick.
“I never could have expected going in the third round,” he said. “It’s just crazy.”
Then again, it would have been hard to expect any of this. It wasn’t until he ran the second-fastest 40-yard-dash at the NFL Combine that anyone in the national sports universe knew he existed.
ESPN’s draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr., named Brown as one of his “under the radar” players and described him as “a touchdown waiting to happen.” Brown’s picture was on the NFL website’s homepage and his story was featured on the front page of the Cardinals’ website.
“I wasn’t aware of all that,” Brown said. “There are some guys who pay attention to all that is said or written about them. That’s not for me. I’m all about the team, and that’s where my focus is.”
It’s possible that the leading receiver in PSU history is just being modest or politically correct. Even so, it’s clear to everyone who sees him or talks to him that he’s not kidding around when he talks about being focused.
“He’s way ahead of most rookies,” Cardinals coach Bruch Arians told the website RevengeOfTheBirds.com “And coming from a small school, that’s unusual, but it doesn’t overwhelm him at all. He learns fast and can apply it fast.”
Brown said he’s doesn’t feel as if his learning curve was as steep as those of other rookies. That’s because, he said, his “small school” prepared him perfectly for this moment.
“Being at PSU taught me a lot about what to look for in terms of certain formations and play-calling,” Brown said. “I think I am catching on pretty quick because the coaches at Pitt prepared me for this. A lot of it is real similar to what I did in college.
“There are times,” he said, “when it feels like I’m still at Pitt.”
Brown said he still keeps in touch with his old teammates and coaches, and he hopes to make an appearance at a PSU game this season.
“I’m hoping to get back during our bye week for the Northwest game,” he said. “Being up at Maryville again, that’s going to be a great game.
“I wish I could still suit up,” he added.
Gorilla fans everywhere second that emotion. •