Prior to the season, the Mississippi State linebacker and several of his fellow newcomers were given an option by coach Dan Mullen: Try to get on the field now, or take a redshirt.
To Brown, the choice was clear.
“We said as a group, hey guys, if we stay this year, our last years together are going to be awesome,” Brown said. “So we took most of our class that we could, and collectively we’re going to stay together and build up together.”
When Brown signed with MSU out of Long Beach High School, he talked of having a chance to compete for playing time at middle linebacker this fall. Given his résumé, he probably would have gotten on the field – Brown was a 2011 Parade All-American and was named the Class 5A player of the year in Mississippi.
“He’s athletic. He’s smart, he’s eager to learn, and he’s got the right attitude,” senior linebacker Cam Lawrence said. “Those are all the things he needs to be great.”
Brown has put his focus on the playbook and hard work, and now he’s getting some quality snaps in practice as MSU prepares for its Gator Bowl date with No. 21 Northwestern. He said it’s been tiring but fun.
“Coach tells me every day, ‘Who runs the defense, Richie?’ I’m like, ‘It’s me, coach.’ I’ve got to get out there, and I’ve got to lead the defense when I’m out there, and it’s my job to make sure everybody’s enthusiastic and energized.”
Even though he hasn’t played a game for State, the night-and-day difference between high school and college football is very apparent to Brown.
“You don’t realize how much one year of football could really change you,” he said. “You think now, wow, if I could’ve gone back to my senior year of high school, you could be five times the player you are now just by these little concepts that you’ve learned – hard work, relentless effort, pursuing the ball, and these little fundamentals that they teach you that are really the biggest part.
“Because just an inch could be the difference in a play.”
Some of the redshirts had doubts about sitting out this year, but for Brown, all he’s learned has verified to him that this decision was the right one.
“Some of the guys were like, uhh, but now we’re all to a point where we’re glad we’re here, and now we’re not just playing for the coaches, we’re playing for each other. We’re happy to be together.”
Said Mullen, “These guys right now had a great year of learning to get that underneath their belt and get ready, and they’re still freshmen next year. That’s the neat thing.”