Oct. 26, 2008
Jonathan Mann, Texas Media Relations
For Curtis Brown, the setting for his first collegiate start may not have seemed ideal. A Top-10 matchup, 98,000-plus fans in the stands and one of the Big 12's premiere wide receivers in Dez Bryant staring back across the line of scrimmage.
Yet those were the circumstances that faced the sophomore cornerback before the Longhorns' 28-24 victory over Oklahoma State after usual starter Chykie Brown was sidelined in a game-time decision.
"Honestly, at the beginning I was [nervous]," Brown said. "But after the first kickoff, I just calmed down."
His play on the field reflected his controlled nerves. Brown played every defensive snap in Saturday's win, recording three tackles and two pass breakups. His second PBU came on the final play of the game as he batted down the Cowboys' last-second, Hail Mary pass.
Defensive backs coach Duane Akina was impressed with the young cornerback's performance in his first start.
"He was well prepared and because of his ability, I was really comfortable," Akina said of the decision to start Brown. "From what he showed in practice, I thought he was more than ready."
Akina, who has coached two Thorpe Award winners in his time at Texas, describes Brown as "one of the most explosive and quick players I've been around." Brown's fellow defensive backs recognize his skills, too.
"We call him 'Little Cat' because he's so quick," said senior cornerback Ryan Palmer. "His athletic ability is off the charts."
Brown has been making big plays for the Longhorns since last season, regardless of his lack of defensive snaps. He recovered a sky kickoff against for a key momentum swing against Texas Tech last year, and in this year's Red River Rivalry, he dragged down the Oklahoma punter short of the first down marker on a pivotal fake punt late in the game.
"If my number is called, I should show up," Brown said of his playing mentality. "That's what I had to do."
In his time at Gilmer High School, Brown played predominantly on offense, seeing time at defensive back during just his sophomore year.
"When I went out to go watch him practice, he just had what you can't coach," Akina recalled of Brown's recruitment. "He's just got tremendous skills and now it's just - how quickly can he learn the fundamentals of the game? He's adjusted a lot quicker than I thought he would."
Palmer has noticed Brown's maturation process as well.
"Every day he's working on the little things - his footwork, tackling and all that," Palmer said. "As he gets older and grows into his body, he's going to be a good player."
Despite his lack of defensive experience in high school, Brown was a highly touted recruit when he made the transition from Gilmer to Austin. The sophomore has been eager for playing time, but has not taken for granted the opportunity to improve.
"I think a lot of times, when you get highly recruited athletes like this, patience is one of the biggest things you have to work on," Akina said. "He's chomping at the bit for the opportunity. But he's done a nice job of really preparing himself for when he gets that opportunity."
Brown's big break may have come sooner were it not for a preseason hamstring injury. But due to the high level of competition, the starting spot was filled while Brown worked at getting healthy.
The competition hasn't discouraged Brown or any of the other young defensive backs, an attitude that is obvious from the group's meeting room demeanor.
"It's a very competitive situation right now with all those young corners," Akina said. "But it's a really neat group because they support each other, they compete well and I think that's what gives you the chance to perform to the best of your abilities."
For Brown, seeing his efforts come to fruition in the form of major playing time was a sign to himself and his team.
"That was a tough, tough game," Brown said of the Longhorns' eighth win of the season. "I played as hard as I could and I think I proved to my teammates I could hold my own."