ATHENS – Mark Richt didn’t much care for the question. He was asked if he thought Marlon Brown was injury-prone.
“I don’t think that term is fair,” Georgia’s coach said. “I think most anybody who gets injured is unlucky.”
If that’s the case, there must be a broken mirror somewhere in Brown’s past. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound senior has yet to play a full season for the Bulldogs because of one nagging injury or another. But Brown has always picked up the pieces and moved on, and never did he look more healthy and vibrant than Saturday against Missouri.
Brown was the star of the Bulldogs’ offense, hauling in eight passes for 106 yards and scoring two touchdowns in the 41-20 victory. As Georgia enters Saturday’s game against Florida Atlantic, he’s viewed as one of the team’s potent weapons.
“A quarterback’s dream,” Georgia’s Aaron Murray called Brown. “What you saw last game is what he’s capable of doing and what we know he can do. If he stays healthy, the sky is the limit for him.”
There always seems to be that qualifier for Brown, “if he stays healthy.” Avoiding injury has been a problem for him, this season no exception.
As ever, Brown’s coaches and teammates raved in August about his “awesome preseason” and how excited they were to see him in action. Then early in the Wednesday practice before the Bulldogs’ opener, Brown was escorted into the training room. Three days later, when the team ran onto the field for the Buffalo game, Brown wore street clothes.
“I thought I could go, I really did,” said Brown, who had suffered a “slight” hamstring pull. “But they told me they didn’t want to take a chance.”
Brown had a similar situation before the 2011 season. Again, he had been all the rage in the preseason, but in the final scrimmage an offensive lineman fell on the back of his leg. There was nothing “slight” about that injury. It was the dreaded “high-ankle” sprain, and it dogged Brown all season.
Brown was determined that injuries weren’t going to be part of the equation his senior season. He trained harder than ever and entered camp in the best shape of his life. He was 10 pounds lighter than the previous season and proceeded to impress as usual.
“Marlon is in tremendous condition,” Richt said. “He trimmed down, and he seems faster to me. He made plays just about every day in camp right up to the point where he pulled a hamstring. I think he’s an outstanding football player. He has always had very good potential, I guess you’d say, but he has worked hard and made himself to be an outstanding player, in my opinion.”
One would not have thought Brown would have to work so hard. He had 1,785 all-purpose yards and 19 touchdown as a senior in high school, including 338 yards and four touchdowns in the state championship game. He was a consensus top- three national prospect at his position and the No. 1 recruit in Tennessee coming out of the Harding Academy in Memphis.
But even then there was talk that Brown was under-developed as a receiver.
“He was raw,” said Ryan Derrick, his high school coach. “A big part of that was due to the amount of basketball he played. He was only a football player from August to November, then he was off to basketball and the AAU circuit. So for such a big-time recruit, there’s probably not been many to play less football than Marlon.”
That was evident when Brown arrived at Georgia. He played only sparingly as a freshman and probably should not have played at all.
“I thought he was going to take a little time,” Richt said. “He played in a league where he was a man among boys, and you didn’t know what it was going to look like when he was with athletes similar to himself. There was a little bit of a learning curve.”
Brown showed flashes before Saturday. At Vanderbilt last season, he caught four passes for 122 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 74-yarder in the narrow Georgia victory. Brown was asked that day, just as he was Saturday, if he thought it was for him a “breakout game.”
“That might be my favorite game so far,” he said with a wide grin Saturday. “I have more confidence now. It was a big game for me, and it was a close game. But I’m trying to build on it. It’s time to get past Saturday and try to get better.”
Maybe now the ultimate practice player will become the ultimate gamer.
“It’s cool to make those plays in practice, but it’s way cooler to do it in the games,” Brown said.
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