All smiles and a bright future
“Young Money” burst onto the football scene this season in Pittsburgh, with young WRs Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, and Antonio Brown. Here’s a look at one member of this terrific trio, Antonio Brown, and his road on the football field to the Black and Gold.
Brown first showed his athletic prowess at Norland High School, in his hometown of Miami, Florida. A two-sport star, he excelled both on the track and on the gridiron. A two-time Class 6A All-State selection and two-time State qualifier in the 100 meters, this speedster shined more brightly as the start quarterback for NHS. As such, he was named the North Athlete of the Year, awarded at the 2005 Miami-Dade Gridiron Classic.
After graduating from Norland HS, Brown spent one year at North Carolina Tech Prep School. In the 2006 season, Brown only appeared in 5 games for NC Tech, but put up eye popping numbers. He rushed for 451 yards and 13 TDs, as well as throwing for 1,247 yards and another 11 TDs through the air. And for good measure, he threw in 11 punt and 6 kickoff returns for TDs. Again, I have to mention that he ONLY PLAYED IN 5 GAMES!
With obvious game-breaking talent, numerous Division I schools were interested in Brown suiting up for them. He decided to attend Central Michigan University of the Mid-American Conference (MAC), walked onto the team as a WR, and soon thereafter started rewriting the CMU record books.
As a freshman, it didn’t take Brown long to make his mark. By the end of the season, the entire MAC knew who he was, earning MAC Freshman of the Year, as well as All-MAC First team Kick Return Specialist and All-MAC Second Team as a wide receiver. His transition to Division I football was seamless, as he racked up a school record 102 receptions for 1,003 yards. Consistency was the name of the game, as he registered at least four receptions in every game, and made nine or more receptions in four games his freshman season, and included a 15 catch day against Akron that still stands as a CMU single-game record. By the end of the season, Brown had set a Division I (Bowl Subdvision) Freshman record with 2,267 all purpose yards.
There was no Sophomore Slump for Brown at CMU. He followed up a spectacular freshman campaign with an even greater season in 2008. As always, his special teams play was his calling card. He was named MAC Special Teams player of the year, leading the nation with a 20.5 average returning punts. He also added All MAC first team honors as a wide receiver, kick returner, and punt returner. As one of the top all-around offensive threats in the Nation, Brown averaged a stunning 178.1 all purpose yards per game, which ranked him fourth nationally. To nobody’s surprise, he was selected as CMU’s offensive and special teams player of the year.
Entering his Junior season, every team CMU played knew about Antonio and geared their defense to stop him each game both on offense and special teams. None of them succeeded. For the second straight season, he was the MAC Special Teams player of the Year, as well as receiving All-MAC honors once again as a receiver and punt returner. Antonio broke his own school record and tallied 110 receptions for 1,198 yards. Ridiculous numbers for one college season. To put a final bow on his college career, he saved possibly his best game for his last. In the GMAC Bowl game against Troy, he was once again a man playing against boys in winning the Offensive Most Valuable Player. He hauled in 13 passes for 178 yards, rushed for a TD, returned a kickoff 95 yards for another TD, and compiled a staggering 403 all-purpose yards in the game. Those are more like video game stats, not stats you normally see in a Division I Bowl Game.
He declared for the NFL Draft after his Junior season, but after only three seasons at CMU he stamped his name as one of the greatest MAC players of all times. He finished his college career as CMU’s all time leading receiver (305 receptions) and #2 all time in MAC history. He caught passes in 41 straight games, and is the only player in CMU history with two 1,000-yard seasons and two 100-reception seasons. As one of the greatest offensive threats that the MAC has ever seen, he accounted for scores by rushing, receiving, passing, and returns on both punts and kickoffs. You can’t do much better than that.
In the 2010 NFL Draft, the Steelers drafted Antonio in the sixth round, pick #195 overall and he joined an incredibly talented WR core. With future Hall of Famer Hines Ward as their mentor, it was obvious that “Young Money” was learning from the best. They seemed to soak up everything that Hines taught them, and Antonio appeared to be the star of training camp. All reports coming out of Latrobe were that the Steelers ‘stole’ a huge WR talent in the sixth round.
However, once the 2010 season started, Brown had to wait his turn on the sideline. With Ward and 2nd year star Mike Wallace entrenched in the starting lineup, and 3rd round rookie Emmanuel Sanders having a solid rookie season, Antonio had to bide his time before getting any playing time. While getting a few snaps at WR, Brown continued to flash his brilliance on special teams. He averaged close to 24 yards per return, including a dazzling 89 yard touchdown return. For years Steeler fans have yearned for a true kick return specialist, with game breaking speed and moves. With Brown now returning kicks, the Steelers now have a true threat who can score anytime he touches the ball.
Late in the 2010 season, the Steelers went to multi-WR package on many occasions. This put Antonio on the field with Ward, Sanders and Wallace. Defenses never knew what hit them. With most of his receptions coming in those last couple games, Brown finished the 2010 regular season with 16 receptions, averaging a respectable 10.4 ypc. More importantly, 10 of his 16 catches went for 1st downs helping the Steelers eat up the clock in late game situations.
Just as in college though, Brown save his best for last. In the 2010 postseason, Brown introduced himself to the rest of the NFL world, and they quickly learned what Steeler fans already knew. Brown is a big time player who isn’t afraid to step up and want the ball in big time situations. In both of the Steelers postseason wins, it was big plays by Antonio that sealed the victories. In the Divisional Playoff game against the rival Ravens, Brown etched his place in Steeler playoff lore. With the score tied, and just about 2 minutes left in regulation, the Steelers faced a 3rd and 19. Roethlisberger lofted a perfect pass down the sideline, and Brown pinned the ball on his helmet as he ran out of bounds after the 58 yard completion. 1st down and goal….game over. Thanks Antonio!
In the AFC Championship game, Brown once again proved why he will be one of Ben’s favorite targets for years to come. Holding onto a slim 4th quarter lead, everybody knew one more 1st down would end the game. On 3rd down, yet again, Ben scrambled to his right and fired a pass low to Brown. Antonio came all the way across the field, and went down to his knees to make the Championship clinching 1st down catch. Once again the rookie stepped up when it was needed.
From Norland High School, to North Carolina Tech, to CMU, and now with the Black and Gold, Antonio Brown has shown that he is a special talent on the field. Steeler fans have to be extremely excited to have this dynamic player wrapped up for the next couple years. With ‘Young Money’ along with ‘Old Cash’ (Ward!) the Steelers have one of the deepest and best WR corps in the league. With one season, and one trip to the Super Bowl, already under his belt, the rest of the NFL better be ready for a huge sophomore season from Antonio Brown.
Steeler fans – be sure to check out Antonio Brown on FaceBook! He’s a very spiritual individual who drops great words of wisdom almost every morning, and is also very fan friendly. Also, make sure you ‘Like’ his athlete (Antonio Brown84) page to keep up with his offseason news.