Justin Brown had no idea what the future held for him at Lincoln High School. After all, Brown was established as a solid football player at Eagle Academy for Young Men in Brooklyn. It has to be hard for a teenager to adjust to new surroundings, a new way of life in a new environment.
But Brown came to Lincoln with an open mind and open eyes. His older sister attended Lincoln, so he heard good things about the school.
“I looked at it as a new challenge,” said Brown, a junior now at Lincoln. “I figured that I could become a better person and do better things with my life. I had to get rid of the bad habits I had with my old team. They really weren’t disciplined, and I felt like I needed the discipline. When I was there, I could sleep late and not worry about school. I had to change that if I want to play and make it to the next level.”
It meant playing college football one day. Brown knew that Lincoln veteran head coach Robert Hampton had sent approximately 50 players to some form of college football. An association with Hampton meant a chance to fulfill Brown’s dream.
“I knew that Coach Hampton knows a lot of coaches,” Brown said. “I knew that if I worked hard and practiced hard, I could get a chance for somebody to take a look at me.”
So Brown enrolled at Lincoln and entered with a clean slate.
“Everyone accepted me and welcomed me,” Brown said. “The coaches accepted me and the players all accepted me. They all made me feel comfortable. I think they all had to adapt to me as well.”
Hampton liked the promise that Brown showed.
“Every day, he came to practice and worked hard,” Hampton said. “I said to myself, ‘Let’s see what the kid can do.’ He kept getting better and better.”
Brown established himself as a fine defensive back and a quarterback. There was only one problem. The Lions had an established and respected quarterback in Jameil “Oatmeal” Lawrence.
There’s one aspect to the Lions that becomes evident under Hampton’s tutelage. Everyone gets a nickname. And the name of “Oatmeal” stuck with Lawrence. Much like a lumpy bowl of Quaker Oats would stick to the wall.
Anyway, Brown was a man without a position. But that fate didn’t stop the young man.
“I had a lot of patience,” Brown said. “I went to practice every day and thought that I would eventually get my chance to break through. ‘Oatmeal’ helped me in practice to get ready. He helped me a lot.”
Hampton liked Brown’s perseverance.
“A lot of other kids might have just given up,” Hampton said. “We struggled as a team against Hoboken [a 48-6 loss] last week and we had to do something different. We knew that Justin was a better runner than Oatmeal. He’s more elusive. Justin had a great week of practice. We thought we could be a little more efficient.”
It was only coincidence that Lawrence was battling a turf toe that limited his ability to play, making more time for his backup.
Hampton, good with his historical references, mentioned Wally Pipp, the New York Yankees’ first baseman who couldn’t play a game in 1925 due to a headache and that opened the door for a rookie named Lou Gehrig, who then never missed a game for 16 years en route to the Baseball Hall of Fame and immortality.
So when the Lions faced Newark Central last Saturday afternoon, Brown was ready for his breakout moment.
“I wasn’t nervous at all,” Brown said. “I get nervous sometimes, but this was nothing new to me. I felt I was ready. Everyone was looking to me to make sure I did the right things and made the right decisions.”
It sure looks that way. Brown just exploded in his first real chance to play. He threw two touchdown passes to Shahid Williams, had a 32-yard run for another touchdown and sealed the deal by returning an interception 56 yards for a touchdown, leading the Lions to a huge 56-6 win.
Brown accounted for four touchdowns in his first true chance to play. Amazing feat, for sure.
“He capitalized on his opportunity and made me look like a coaching genius,” Hampton said.
For his efforts, Brown has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Hampton said that Brown’s demeanor stood out in the coach’s eyes.
“He surprised me with his coolness,” Hampton said. “He was waiting for his opportunity and jumped on it. He would spend time working on his mechanics, because he wanted to be more diverse. It came down to practicing hard and showing character.”
Hampton also likes Brown’s approach to life.
“He has a great personality and a great smile,” Hampton said. “He’s just a wonderful kid. We’re looking forward to seeing what he can do for us moving forward. He practices daily to get better. I think we discovered his ability by him being a better practice player. The kid can play.”
Brown credited the coaching staff, like Hampton and assistant coach Ronald Butler, who was like Brown when he was at Lincoln a decade ago and would later go on to play wide receiver at Utah State.
“I have a good relationship with Coach Butler,” Brown said. “He helps with the quarterbacks sometimes. We communicate a lot and that helps me. I ask him a lot of questions.”
Like what it will take to play college football.
“That’s always been my dream,” Brown said. “I want to make it to the next level.”
Brown should definitely feel at home at Lincoln. Heck, Hampton has given him a nickname as well, so that means Brown fits right in.
“I call him Slash,” Hampton said.
Like slashing his way through the record books.
It might have taken a few weeks, but Brown has definitely made his mark on this level, evidenced by perhaps the best breakout game in Lincoln football history. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com