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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are expected to do great things, maybe even make history. Almost all of them do so with their intellect. DeRon Brown has already rewritten the history of MIT football.
Brown, a junior from Galax and a 2005 graduate of Grayson County High School, carried 20 times for 165 yards and a touchdown in last Saturday’s 27-14 loss to Plymouth State, maintaining his status as the No. 1 Division III ballcarrier in the nation while breaking MIT’s career rushing record.
To put that in perspective:
*In addition to leading Division III, the 5-foot-8, 180-pound Brown is second among all NCAA divisions in rushing average, behind only Jerry Seymour of Division II Glenville State, who is averaging 204.51 yards per game;
*With a 139-yard effort against Curry College on Oct. 11, Brown broke the Engineers’ single-season rushing record of 987 yards and became the school’s first 1,000-yard rusher. Six games into the season;
*Brown became the Engineers’ all-time leading rusher with one game plus an entire senior season to go;
*If he had never played a down before this year, and if he never played another down after last week, Brown would still be among the Engineers’ all-time leaders. Career leaders, that is. His 1,639 yards this season alone would place him third on MIT’s career rushing list. His 22 touchdowns this season alone are a mere three shy of the school’s previous career mark of 25;
nHe’s already shattered that record, with 28 TDs in three seasons.
“It’s been exhilarating, just keeping track of him,” said his father, Chris Brown, a Sergeant in charge of special operations with the Galax Police Department. “We’ve only made it up to one game this year, but MIT does an excellent job of putting information on their Web site, so come Saturday night or first thing Sunday morning I’m checking their Web site to see how everything went.”
Chris and his wife, Kim, a consultant, have only seen DeRon play once this year, but they chose the right game to attend as their son ran for a career-best 251 yards on Sept. 13 in a win over Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
Keeping at a distance due to geographic reasons now that their son is in college, 750 miles and some 13 hours away, Chris and Kim gave DeRon an opportunity to fail or succeed on his own by selectively keeping their distance while rearing him and his two older siblings.
“We knew that we would not always be there to take care of our kids’ problems, and we knew that we needed to teach them respectful ways to handle the difficult situations that were going to arise later in life,” said Chris.
Thus this choice – either DeRon could work out any problem in the classroom or on the playing field by talking to his coaches or teachers, or his parents could do so for him. Given the option, the Brown kids always said they would handle it themselves.
“Later on, we would follow up and ask them if they talked to the coach or teacher,” Chris said. “Sometimes they would say ‘yes,’ and sometimes they would say ‘no.’ ”
If no was the answer, Chris and Kim would ask why, and offer to intervene.
“I don’t know if they felt embarrassed or not, but they never said they wanted us to do the talking for them,” said Chris. “We feel this type of upbringing has led to DeRon leading a productive life on his own, one that we don’t have to worry about him being so far from home.”
Which explains DeRon’s most recent summer vacation. A mechanical engineering major and a solid B student, DeRon worked as an intern in San Francisco, handling all the arrangements himself.
“It’s tough letting a child go,” said the father. But letting go has gone a long way in making DeRon Brown what he is.
Chris Brown, who ran for 2,154 yards as a Galax High senior in 1977, attributes his son’s big year on the gridiron in part to an unusually high number of seniors on the team.
“The biggest problem with MIT over the years has been just keeping seniors,” said the elder Brown. “They’ve got more seniors this year than they’ve had in the past. The curriculum for them is so demanding that by your junior or senior year you’ve got to make a choice between football and academics. Of course you’re there for academics to start with, and a lot of them make the choice to bypass football.”
Also a member of the MIT baseball team, DeRon Brown is determined to play his senior year, according to his father. That is another area where Kim Brown’s influence kicks in.
“She’s the brains of the group,” Chris said. “She’s where he gets his intelligence, and his determination to be successful.”
That obviously carries over to the football field.
“He runs hard,” said Chris. “He’s got good speed, but he runs the ball hard. Once he gets the ball he’s running hard, making quick cuts and not losing any speed, and after contact has been made he’s still moving forward.”
That seems to be a theme in the New England Football Conference, which, heading into last weekend’s games, was home to the top five rushers in Division III.
Brown’s gridiron accomplishments are all the more impressive when considering that, well, he’s a student at MIT for crying out loud, where keeping up with one’s studies has been described as trying to drink from a firehose.
There is still a lot of football to be played between now and the time final numbers are tallied. In recent weeks Brown had the national rushing lead firmly in hand, averaging about 15 yards per game more than whomever occupied the No. 2 spot at the time, but Christopher Newport’s Tunde Ogun has come out of nowhere with 762 yards in the past three games to challenge Brown’s lead, and enters tomorrow’s action trailing Brown by about seven yards per game.
The good news is that Brown finishes his season tomorrow against Endicott, which has the 215th-ranked rushing defense among the 230-plus Division III schools. Ogun and Christopher Newport face Averett (151st-ranked rush defense) and Ferrum (34th-ranked rush defense) in their final two games.
Whatever the final outcome, DeRon Brown’s magical season will end tomorrow. Whether he finishes 2008 as the nation’s leading rusher is yet to be determined, but one gets the distinct impression that his successes are just beginning, successes that will far outlast anything he does on the gridiron.