COLUMBIA — Basketball played a bigger role in Colin Brown's life than football.
Although he played football in high school, Missouri right tackle Colin Brown wasn’t concerned with success in the sports beyond that.
“In high school, it was something we just did for fun,” Brown said. “It wasn’t something that we took real seriously.”
In Braymer, Mo., football was something that was secondary to basketball, Brown’s first love and a sport in which he became a McDonald’s All-American nominee.
“It was something I grew up playing, my whole life,” Brown said. “Football wasn’t something anybody took all that seriously in high school, but we were really big into basketball.”
In retrospect, that almost worked against him.
“All 1A schools are kind of overlooked, they’ve got to go to camps,” Colin's father Dave Brown said. “Colin spent all his time playing AAU basketball and didn’t go that route, which I kind of regret, that I didn’t push him to go to camps earlier.”
The offers didn’t come in either football or basketball, despite Brown’s work in basketball and being first team all-state at defensive tackle. After high school, he considered playing basketball at a small school or walking on somewhere.
“We were kind of worried when we were trying to get him exposure,” Braymer football coach Troy Stemburger said. “We called Mizzou several times and it was a long time before we were able to get him up there.”
Stemburger and Dave Brown's work didn't appear to be necessary when Colin Brown finished high school, because Brown thought his future was in basketball. But his father still thought that, at the college level, football would be more promising for his son's talents.
“I just thought all along that he had potential as a football player,” Dave Brown said. “He was 6’7”, 6’8” playing basketball. He was a heck of a basketball player, but he played with his back to the basket and there’s not too many basketball players that are his height that are really successful Division I basketball players.”
Colin Brown still went through the recruiting process in basketball, with some small Division I schools pursuing him as a secondary recruit. But those offers fell through when each school signed its primary recruit at his position.
Colin Brown's options as a Division I basketball player had dried up. If he wanted to play basketball, he'd have to go the NAIA route. But his desire to play a Division I sport led him to consider his father's advice and walk on as a football player.
“It got late, and I was getting worried that nothing was going to happen (with scholarships),” Colin Brown said. “I wasn’t hearing back from coaches. My dad talked me into coming down here and giving this a try.”
Given Brown’s success against Division I recruits, Dave Brown was confident that his son had made the right decision.
“I felt all along that if he got in the right weight program and worked at it that he could be successful,” Dave Brown said. “He had played against (current MU guard) Kurtis (Gregory) and (current MU center) Tim Barnes in high school. I knew that they were going to be recruited by the Tigers, and I felt Colin was in line with those guys, and if he got a chance, could compete with those guys.”
But even with his father’s confidence, Colin Brown wasn’t expecting much. When he joined the Tigers, his main focus was to avoid getting embarrassed.
“I remember I talked to my dad about it a lot,” Brown said. “About a week before I showed up, I remember talking to him about what I was going to do if I got down here and was the absolute worst player.”
He wasn’t the absolute worst player. He wasn’t even close.
Fast forward five years, and Brown is now an anchor on the Missouri offensive line at right tackle. In 2005, once it became apparent he had a future in football, he was placed on scholarship. A year ago, he received an honorable mention from the Big 12 coaches.
When Missouri coach Gary Pinkel got his first look at Colin Brown, he liked what he saw. After all, Brown was 6'8" with room to grow. But Pinkel wondered what kind of skills he had to work with.
“When he first came in, he looked good,” Pinkel said. “He always looked good walking off the bus, maybe he could intimidate our opponents. Whether he could play football or not, I didn’t know that.”
Despite Brown’s past, Pinkel had good reasons to question Brown’s ability.
First, there was the fact that Brown had to switch positions. In high school, he played tight end on offense. But that wasn't an option at Missouri.
“I knew I wasn’t fast enough or mobile enough to play tight end,” Brown said. “If I was ever going to have a chance, it was going to be on the offensive line.”
The second question for Pinkel was how far behind Brown was. For most players, one of the earliest adjustments to college football is dealing with a new coaching style. Again, Brown was different. Because he hadn’t been serious about football in high school, he hadn’t picked up techniques
Essentially, he was a blank slate.
“(I changed) nothing, really, considering that I didn’t ever do any (preparation),” he said. “Everything I learned was new, so there wasn’t anything that I needed to change. It was just picking up the tips and pointers.”
The one thing that Brown needed to change was what had left him behind: his football work ethic.
“In high school, he was a four-year starter, he didn’t have to work too hard to get a starting position,” Dave Brown said. “I think at that time, he wasn’t a real hard worker. But when he got to Missouri and had to step up and compete with people his size and athletic ability, he definitely did that.”
The difference was the revelation that he could no longer rely on his natural gifts alone. Outworking teammates became a necessity.
“When I got here, I was really behind because football wasn’t something I had taken real seriously in high school,” Colin Brown said. “It was constantly (working) every day, trying to improve. Slowly, over time, I got better and better.”
That wasn’t a surprise to Stemburger. Given Brown’s size , Stemburger figured it was a matter of time before Brown’s skills caught up.
“I knew eventually they’d get him in the weight room and he’d be big enough to play,” Stemburger said. “The boy is 6’8”, over 300 pounds now and he can move.”
Over time, Pinkel and his staff noticed the changes taking place. The player who was just a project two years ago was developing into someone who could be relied on to protect prized quarterback Chase Daniel.
“You’d sit there and watch and think 'This guy might be a good backup for us,’” Pinkel said. “Then all of a sudden in the spring a couple years ago, (it was) ‘This guy, he might be able to start for us.’ He worked his rear end off with Pat Ivey and Dave Christensen and certainly has exceeded all our expectations.”
Now in his fourth year playing for Missouri, Colin Brown’s lasted at least twice as long as he thought he would when he entered Columbia with an impressive body and raw skills.
“It was something I thought might last a season, maybe two,” Colin Brown said. “I really thought this would be completely over my head and I’d never have a chance to be good enough to even compete."
But what if his early fears had come true? What if, instead of blossoming into the player that Daniel calls “the cornerstone of the offensive line,” Brown had been the absolute worst player, had no chance to compete and was out of football in a year?
“There’s no telling where I’d be right now,” he said.