The one-year anniversary came and went with zero celebration, no fanfare or party. The Maryland football team had practice that morning, the start of another long day amid the drudgery of preseason camp, but C.J. Brown remembered. On Aug. 14, 2012, Brown made the now-infamous cut that tore his anterior cruciate ligament and ended his junior season in a pile of pain. So before the Terrapins took the field exactly one year later, Brown paused and reflected.
“He said, ‘Man, I made it a year,’ ” wide receiver Nigel King said.
If his injury seemed well in the past this summer, Brown widened the gap even more after his return on Saturday against Florida International. Five total touchdowns, 281 passing yards and 105 rushing yards in a 33-point victory can do that. ESPN nominated Brown for its all-American player of the week, so Sunday brought floods of tweets from teammates and fans encouraging followers to vote for their quarterback.
“Anytime that you have a teammate or someone you care about who’s receiving that recognition, it’s special,” Brown said Tuesday. “It’s unique and I’m very thankful. We all have each other’s back. If it was anyone else on the team they’d do the exact same thing.”
Riding the bus to Byrd Stadium on Saturday, Brown felt the typical pregame jitters. He tried to visualize his assignments, but every so often the butterflies checked back in. Not until Maryland began scoring at will – on seven of eight possessions in the first half – could Brown relax.
Any celebration was short-lived, however. Week Two brings Old Dominion into College Park, and Brown now has a reputation to uphold. After hearing all offseason about the doubts surrounding his passing accuracy and arm strength, Brown set a single-game program record with an 87 percent completion rate against Florida International. Perhaps the critics forgot he had nearly two years to prepare for this moment, he said.
“It kind of proved you go out there and you prepare, you do what you have to do,” Brown said. “I took a different perspective from the game when you sit out for a year. You see things, you learn from the offense. It’s my second year, I feel a lot more comfortable in it and I think it showed.
“With everyone saying ‘you can’t throw’ and things like that, just to go out there and execute, it being my first game back, for us to put that many points on the board, it was exciting.”
Brown may have surprised himself with those numbers, which earned him College Football Performance’s quarterback of the week honors, but his teammates saw it coming. They noticed the diligent offseason preparation and rehabilitation work Brown put into his comeback. His injury led to so much drama under center last season, it was only fitting that Brown would return under equally theatrical circumstances.
“It’s unbelievable,” tight end Dave Stinebaugh said. “He came back from a huge injury, he put on a show for sure, especially Week One. I’m happy for him. Hopefully we can keep building this thing.
“I don’t think anyone in our building or on our team was surprised. I think a lot of people outside of Maryland football were surprised at the numbers he put up and the way he handled himself.”
Brown agreed with Coach Randy Edsall’s somewhat critical assessment of his read-option handiwork on Saturday, saying he demonstrated shoddy footwork or missed reads on “three or four” plays. He was disappointed that Maryland stalled in the red zone on its first two drives, and criticized himself for losing a fumble on a blindside blitz. Such nitpicking will serve Brown well. Maryland will face far stronger defenses than Florida International, especially once ACC play begins in early October. Fans will relish in Brown’s accolades, or his FBS-best quarterback rating according to ESPN.com, but the quarterback himself has already moved on.
“Anytime you go out and have success, you go out and win, you’re going to feel more confident going into Game Two,” Brown said. “Now we can go back, look at the film, improve on what we screwed up and didn’t do what we wanted to. Just build from Week One to Week Two, that’s the biggest thing, make sure we don’t beat ourselves and play our game.”
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