There were moments last year when Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown must have actually felt like an old man, lying on the bed, yelling through the ceiling whenever he wanted water. Recovering from his torn anterior cruciate ligament took time. It took patience. It took accepting that rudimentary tasks, like standing up, driving places or even fetching something to drink, required assistance from his friends. The hardest part: “Just not being able to do things for yourself,” Brown said.
Two games into his comeback season, Brown is again shouldering the load for Maryland. He ranks fourth nationally in passing efficiency and tops the ACC in total touchdowns. He has broken program records (single-game completion percentage with at least 20 attempts) and engineered consecutive 500-yard outings. The “old man” has made fans forget about 2012.
“I think it brings a sense of calmness, a sense of confidence to everyone else,” Coach Randy Edsall said. “To have him perform the way he’s been performing also brings a tremendous amount of confidence in C.J. but also the other guys. I think I might have said this after the game, or to somebody, that it just seems like the game is very slow for him. He has everything under control. He’s operating at a level that’s very outstanding, very smooth. Hopefully that will continue. He’s in grad school, he’s the old man on the team, the level of maturity and everything else that’s there.”
Maybe it’s the beard, which some reporter always asks about at every media availability session. Maybe it’s the sage wisdom, the experience that comes with nearly five years in College Park that elicits comparisons to the elderly. But Brown isn’t Maryland’s oldest player. Not even close. Defensive lineman Zeke Riser is the eldest statesman, but he’s injured and just transferred from Houston. Deon Long is older than Brown, too, but with his youthful vibrancy, who would dare call him an old man?
“You need to interview Sal [Conaboy],” Brown said of his starting center, smiling through his teeth. “Sal’s older than me. … I don’t know why I’m getting all the [heat]. It’s just cause I’ve been here. It is what it is. Comes with the territory.”
Besides, rehabilitation taught Brown proper recovery, the practices he now uses after games to feel less, well, old. Brown attended both postgame interviews this season with ice bags strapped to his right elbow and right knee. He’ll pop ibuprofen or Advil, too, then return to the training room on Sunday morning for treatment on sore muscles and a relaxing session in the cold tub.
Because of this – and probably because his offensive line has allowed just four sacks in two games — Brown hasn’t felt the morning-after soreness typical of players returning from a nearly two-year hiatus. His rehab was a prolonged, calculated affair, and because the injury happened during the preseason, it allowed Brown to slow down if his knee swelled up. There was no need to rush back.
Now, there is no need for extended medical treatment after games. The soreness feels good. It helps Brown remember.
“You wake up, especially after a win, you remember the hits you took,” he said. “Things like that. It’s definitely a lot easier to wake up sore after a win.”
As Brown navigated the recovery process, his progress hit the occasional wall as frustration set in. But by and large he remained calm, the same serenity he brings to huddles. Last Saturday, Brown says an Old Dominion defender took a “cheap shot” at his knee after he pitched on an option. Other than that, he couldn’t remember a recent time when he grew angry.
“But I feel like that’s a quarterback’s job, to manage everything else,” offensive lineman De’Onte Arnett said. “When things look really hectic and everybody else is getting all crazy, it’s his job to make sure we bring things back together and can play with a clear head.”
Last season, Arnett said, Maryland’s offensive line tried to support the revolving door of quarterbacks it was charged with protecting. They scrapped the chemistry built with Brown after his injury and started fresh with Perry Hills. That lasted barely six games. Then it was Devin Burns for a half, Caleb Rowe for a game and, the coup de grace, fprmer linebacker Shawn Petty for the final four weeks.
Through the turmoil, the linemen supported the youngsters as best they could. But they kept telling themselves that, when Brown returned, he would bring a new level of confidence and reassuring comfort into the huddle. Not to speak ill of quarterbacks past, Arnett said, but things have changed for the better.
“It’s one thing to be confident in him,” Arnett said. “It’s another to actually have that physical presence in the huddle. C.J. plays with a confidence, a cool calm and collectiveness that we struggled to get last year. The offensive line, we tried to boost up the quarterbacks and let them know that we believe in them, let them know that no matter what we have their backs. But it’s another thing to know your quarterback is back definitely.”
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