MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — After a long training camp, every West Virginia player is excited to start the football season – but likely none more so than starting junior left guard Mike Brown.
Part of that joy is just natural to Brown. He is undoubtedly the first player in West Virginia history to show up to the football facility wearing a sarong one day and a bright Hawaiian shirt on another.
“I look great, man,” Brown noted earlier this week as he patted his shirt and a belly that has dropped 33 pounds.
But another part of Brown’s attitude is wonderment that he’s here in the first place. As he shared this spring, he never played a down of football in high school and then spent two years as a Mormon missionary in the Philippines.
When he returned to the United States, he decided to join his brother at an Arizona junior college despite having very little grasp of football’s rules, much less the nuances that come with playing his position.
Now he’s starting for a Big 12 program just four years removed from learning how to play the game.
“It’s hard to believe,” Brown said. “It still is to this day.”
After playing two years at the juco level, Brown assumed what college football would be like everywhere. Standing on the sidelines at Milan Puskar Stadium last season made him realize what he was getting into.
“Now that I have a better understand of how important and big this program is? OK, yeah, that’s when I start to get nervous,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of people that love this team. I don’t want to let them down.”
But when he thinks about players on the field rather than the people in the stands, that nervousness subsides.
“I’m excited to see someone other than my teammates because I want a test run to see how strong I am,” Brown said. “Nerve-wracking? Nah. I’m more super-excited.”
Weight was one of the many challenges Brown had to address when he arrived at West Virginia. His 370-pound frame was not conducive to staying on the field for more than a handful of plays.
“Playing football is fun. The hitting and everything,” Brown said. “But I hated getting tired, because after the sixth or seventh play I didn’t want to play anymore.”
In order to drop a sufficient amount of weight, Brown had to make a major sacrifice.
“Ice cream,” he said. “Ice cream is just so delicious, man. Cookies and cream. The rainbow ice cream that tastes like fruits. Sherbet. I could eat that all day.”
Brown, who is married, says his wife is making sure he sticks to fruits that taste like fruit instead of ice cream that does.
“My wife jumped on board and started buying fruits,” he said. “I’ll leave the house with a peach or an apple.”
He’s also eating more reasonably sized meals.
“Us Polynesians, we like to eat a lot,” Brown said. “It’s hard to grow up when you just love to eat. It’s [been] a lot of conditioning. Instead of eating like five bags of ramen noodles, I eat two now. That’s my lunch.”
The slimmed-down version of Brown is still a formidable 347 pounds, but to him it’s a world of difference.
“Now once I start to play and I’m not getting tired, that’s when it gets real fun,” he said.
Brown has had to prepare his mind as well as his body. His tablet is practically an appendage as he studies film at every possible opportunity.
“My mission here is to play football, and I figure to play football, study the most you can,” Brown said. “Fix the little mistakes and the big ones are gone. I hate in film when I [have to] scratch my head. I see what coach is talking about, and try to fix it the next day.”
Even though in many regards he is still one of West Virginia’s rawest players, his growth has been exponential enough to earn the trust of the coaching staff. Now he just needs to prove it can carry over from the practice field.
“He’s strong and he’s athletic,” said offensive line coach Matt Moore. “With him, it’s been whether he can consistently repeat and not make mistakes. He’s done a really good job of that. But he’s also only gone up against our defense, which is very multiple. But going against an opponent, I have to make sure he can retain that. In a game setting, there is no repeat. That’s what I need to see out of Mike.”