Journey Brown was suspended from Penn State’s football team this summer, and it looked for a while early this season like he might get lost in the Nittany Lions’ running-back shuffle with higher-profile teammates.
But Brown has emerged as not only the starter at RB, but one of the personal stories of the season. He has run for 100-plus yards in three of the Nittany Lions’ last four games, and leads the team in rushing yards (699), yards per carry (6.1) and touchdowns (10).
It has all come amid personal tragedy. Brown’s grandmother, Helen Leona McCracken, died last year, during football season. His cousin, Paige Fabela, 17, died last week in Meadville, Brown’s hometown.
“I knew I was playing for him today,” Brown said after running for 103 yards and three TDs in Penn State’s 27-6 defeat of Rutgers.
“I feel like that I had to put on for my little cousin, Paige. I feel like I did. I did it for him and his immediate family and the seniors and the Penn State family.
“I get very emotional when I think about that kind of stuff. My family up here supported me. I never felt alone when he passed away. My teammates had my back.”
Brown is unique in a number of ways. As a high school senior, he rushed for 722 yards and 10 TDs. In one game. He won the state Class AAAA 100-meter dash in 10.43, breaking a 34 year-old meet record held by Olympian Leroy Burrell. He was a starter on a Meadville basketball team that reached the Class 5A state final.
“It’s not like the guy lacks ability,’’ coach James Franklin said.
Sometimes it is just not your year. Even if you are the greatest dynasty in college football…
Yet Brown’s only other scholarship offers came from Syracuse, Temple and Duquesne. He has made his bones as a major-college player competing with five-star recruits.
“In my 24 years, I don’t think I’ve been around a kid who has overcome more adversity in his life than him,” Franklin said.
“He had some more this past week. He’s a special, special kid. He always has a huge smile on his face, he’s very appreciative of Penn State, he’s been phenomenal, and I could not be more proud of him.”
Bowl update: Going into Saturday, Penn State fans were advised to root for Wisconsin to beat Minnesota, if they wanted to go to the Rose Bowl.
Should’ve been more specific: Beat the Gophers, Wisconsin, but don’t beat the heck out of them.
Wisconsin’s impressive 38-17 win in Minneapolis gave the Badgers the Big Ten West Division title. Wisconsin outscored the Gophers 38-3 from the beginning of the second quarter to the middle of the fourth.
The win made it likely that Wisconsin and Minny will jump Penn State in the College Football Playoff rankings, but in opposite directions.
Minnesota was eighth, Penn State 10th and Wisconsin 12th last week. The new rankings are announced Tuesday.
The AP and coaches’ poll, released Sunday, have Wisconsin 10th and Minnesota 15th, with Penn State 12th in one and 11th in the other.
The CFP committee has tended to like Penn State this year, but the Nittany Lions obviously didn’t help themselves by sleepwalking past Rutgers.
So it will go something like this: The Rose Bowl gets the highest-ranked Big Ten team not in the playoff. If Ohio State, as expected, handles Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, the Buckeyes are in the playoff.
If Wisconsin manages to give Ohio State a game, which no one has really done, it will likely go to Pasadena. If Ohio State stomps all over Bucky - it beat Wisconsin 38-7 in October - it figures to be very close between Penn State and Wisconsin for the Rose bid.