C.J. Brown was just another intern at Under Armour’s Baltimore offices this summer, a 22-year-old college kid in charge of flow charts and statistic reports at the apparel giant.
In the past three months, he met with representatives from Nike, Adidas and Patagonia as part of the supply operations team, preparing metrics research on the competitors. Last week, he helped present a final project to Under Armour executives, making suggestions on how the company might grow.
“I’m treated like a regular teammate. It’s what they call their employees,” Brown said.
It was one last chance for Brown to perform under pressure before the job ended, to unveil a body of work, and it wasn’t all that different from what he faces on the football field as Maryland’s quarterback this fall. The season will be a final presentation of sorts for Brown, a sixth-year quarterback who has been through a mental and physical ringer. He has witnessed seismic shifts within the Terrapins’ football program, too, maybe more than anyone else — and he hopes that kind of life experience will give him the juice to begin a special final season when training camp opens Monday.
“I’m not trying to rush it. I’m just trying to take advantage of this opportunity and cherish it,” Brown said.
Maryland Coach Randy Edsall called Brown the team’s “professional student” when he introduced the quarterback during Big Ten media days last week, an apt description for a player who is working toward a master’s degree and who has been around longer than his coaching staff, athletic director and teammates. He has watched coordinators come and go. He has watched the athletic department undergo dramatic changes with the cutting of sports, and now he’s about to participate in the move to the Big Ten, one of the most significant transitions in school history.
That kind of tenured status carries weight around the team, sure, but it is also intertwined with a personal history of survival. Brown, who is 6 feet 3, 218 pounds, missed 11 games with a shoulder injury as a redshirt freshman in 2010.
He made the most of his split time as a sophomore to win the starting job as a junior in 2011, only to watch that opportunity fizzle after he made a routine cut in a two-minute drill during camp. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament during the play, and after surgery, the college student who was never comfortable with asking for help growing up needed it in more ways than one.
In his apartment, he would yell “Help!” to his roommate upstairs, Maryland center Sal Conaboy, when he couldn’t complete a task. He would call home to his mother and father during the rehabilitation process, admitting he had to shed a disciplined independence and come to terms that he needed them more than ever.
“He’s been through a great deal of adversity,” said Brown’s father, Clark, who played quarterback at Michigan State in the early 1980s. “What we talked about is the fact that things like this shouldn’t define him, but the way in which he responds to adversity is the way he will be defined. And that’s kind of what his legacy can be.”
Brown healed, received a medical redshirt waiver that spring and didn’t hesitate to re-assert himself on the field last fall. He had always been labeled a dual-threat quarterback, and by the end of last season he was the first player in school history to throw for more than 2,000 yards and rush for 500 more in a season. He had a string of notable performances; he rushed for 138 yards against N.C. State and completed 20 of 23 passes for 281 yards against Florida International.
But his body also continued to betray him. He was injured in a 63-0 loss to Florida State, and he missed the next game against Virginia with a concussion. He staggered through the schedule with a trunk injury — which can affect nerves in the shoulder, arm and hand — toward the end of the season, when Maryland lost five of its last seven games.
“It’s part of the game. At the same time, it definitely took a toll over the whole season, week in and week out,” Brown said. “I think it’s made me a better player, a better person, a better understanding of the game and how much I really care for it.”
Brown has missed nearly two years with an inventory of injuries but nonetheless still holds the keys to a Maryland offense that is expected to be among the Big Ten’s most exciting this fall.
It has one of the deepest receiving corps in the country, led by probable future NFL draft picks in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, and has four productive players vying for time at running back. Conaboy is the core of an offensive line that must develop a rotation and find depth in camp. Brown is front and center, named the starting quarterback for a third year in a row. Edsall noted he expects the game to “slow down” for the graduate student this season and that he will be much more knowledgeable in certain situations.
“You can definitely sense that he realizes what he has in front of him. He’s been working his butt off,” Conaboy said.
Brown squeezed in 6 a.m. treatment sessions at the school before taking off to Under Armour for the internship.
He was able to blend at Under Armour, too, a reprieve from the people who sometimes stop him at the airport or somewhere on campus because they’ve seen his face plastered on billboards across the region. He has become one of the symbols of Maryland football’s marketing campaign as it enters the Big Ten and maybe rightly so. More than anyone else on the team right now, Brown is the face of longevity.
“Every time you get kind of cut down, you’ve got to build yourself back up,” he said. “You’ve got to get the confidence back.”