Lions bet on ‘al­pha’

LB Brown em­braces his lead­er­ship role

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Mark Wo­gen­rich

Bur­tonsville, Md., is about 15 miles north of Mary­land Sta­dium, and it’s where Cam Brown be­gan train­ing to be­come a Penn State line­backer.

Brown spent part of his sum­mer back at home men­tor­ing kids who want to fol­low his path. He also trained there for six weeks, re­turn­ing to fa­mil­iar ground as his fi­nal col­lege sea­son ap­proached.

“I feel like get­ting away from State Col­lege is help­ful in its way,” Brown said be­fore the sea­son. “In some ways I lost a lit­tle by dis­con­nect­ing with the team a lit­tle bit, but at the same time, on a per­sonal level, I feel like it was a good step for me. I feel like I got back to that old-school, gritty train­ing that I knew.

“I was in my back­yard run­ning hills in the morn­ing. It was more nat­u­ral, or­ganic.”

Brown, a se­nior cap­tain for Penn State, re­turns home Fri­day night when the Lions visit Mary­land for their Big Ten opener in Col­lege Park. Brown is one of 11 Penn State play­ers, in­clud­ing three starters, from Mary­land, a sign of how valu­able the re­cruit­ing ter­rain is for both pro­grams.

Brown is off to a strong start for Penn State’s de­fense. He is third in tack­les (18), was a coaches’ de­fen­sive player of the game against Buf­falo, and he made two sig­nif­i­cant plays to se­cure the 17-10 win against Pitt.

Late in the fourth quar­ter, Brown pres­sured Pitt quar­ter­back Kenny Pick­ett into a crit­i­cal third-down in­com­ple­tion, which prompted the Pan­thers to at­tempt a 19-yard field goal. On the game’s fi­nal play, Brown used his 6-foot-5 frame to de­flect a pass in the end zone.

Brown al­ready has forced (and re­cov­ered) a fum­ble af­ter lead­ing the team with three forced fum­bles last sea­son. He also had a solo sack against Pitt. And now

he’s play­ing at home on a Fri­day night, need­ing as many as 20 tick­ets for fam­ily friends.

Fur­ther, coach James Franklin wants Brown and his fel­low DMV team­mates to be in con­trol of that hometown emo­tion.

“He’s do­ing re­ally well,” Franklin said of Brown, “but I’m also aware that when a kid from Mary­land is go­ing back home, it is a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent for him. So we want to make sure that our process is as con­sis­tent as pos­si­ble, so guys like Cam and other guys don’t start fo­cus­ing on things that don’t mat­ter.”

Fol­low­ing last sea­son, Brown briefly con­sid­ered leav­ing early for the NFL, but he wasn’t sat­is­fied with his ca­reer at Penn State. Fur­ther, as Penn State’s “al­pha,” as strength coach Dwight Galt calls him, Brown would have given up a sig­nif­i­cant lead­er­ship role on the team.

But in­stead of train­ing at Penn State the en­tire sum­mer, Brown re­turned home for a six-week in­tern­ship at The Bullis School in nearby Po­tomac. He men­tored kids dur­ing the day and trained with some for­mer high school team­mates, many of whom have NFL as­pi­ra­tions, at night.

Brown, a ki­ne­si­ol­ogy ma­jor, said the ex­pe­ri­ence not only helped him re­set phys­i­cally but also nur­tured con­fi­dence in his lead­er­ship style, which he as­serted soon af­ter Penn State lost to Ken­tucky in the Cit­rus Bowl.

“When you say ‘al­pha male,’ that means he’s se­cure in pro­vid­ing,” Brown said. “He’s pro­tect­ing and try­ing to help. That’s what I’ve been do­ing since Jan­uary.”

Since ar­riv­ing at Penn State, Brown also has been try­ing to gain weight. He weighed un­der 200 pounds as a fresh­man, not the ideal size for a line­backer. Brown has played while gain­ing weight steadily for four years, though he al­ways fell short of reach­ing his 230-pound goal. Un­til this past spring.

He stepped on a train­ing room scale to see it reg­is­ter 230 pounds. He stepped off and back on to con­firm. It marked a mile­stone that Brown has been able to main­tain through the sea­son.

“I al­ways felt like, when I was at 220, I could get pushed around,” he said. “I felt like, run­ning at full speed, if some­body gives me a lit­tle nudge, I moved more than I wanted. At 230 I’m more stout. I feel like I can pack more punch.”

Nit­tany Notes

Franklin wants re­ceiver KJ Ham­ler to get more touches. Ham­ler leads Penn State in catches (10) and tar­gets (21) and has scored two touch­downs.

“That doesn’t have to be shots down the field,” Franklin said. “It can be short stuff as well — higher-per­cent­age things.”

Penn State altered its prac­tice sched­ule for Fri­day’s start, get­ting back on the field Satur­day and tak­ing its day off Sunday. Sev­eral coaches, in­clud­ing Franklin, squeezed in re­cruit­ing trips.

Franklin noted that a down­side of play­ing on Fri­day night is the lack of foot­ball to watch. At least on Satur­days, play­ers have games to dis­tract them while wait­ing for prime-time starts. Be­cause of that, Franklin said the team’s Fri­day sched­ule will in­clude less down­time “be­cause, if not, they are just on Net­flix and lay­ing around and tak­ing naps all day long, which I don’t think is the right thing for them to do to be ready to play the game.”

BARRY REEGER/AP

Penn State line­backer Cam Brown (6) got his hand on a pass in the end zone that se­cured a 17-10 win over Pitt.

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