Seemingly everyone close to Matt Brown calls the diminutive Temple running back a dynamic personality — someone who draws attention and causes groups to flock in his direction.
But for years, Brown, 5 feet 5, 170 pounds, could barely get any college recruiters to listen to him. Ever since he started playing running back for the Northwood Rams Pop Warner team, Brown knew he would play Division I football. It was a dream that just wouldn't fade.
He went everywhere he could — he started at City, transferred to Cardinal Gibbons and then Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J., went to a prep school in New York and finally landed at Temple. Even there he had to walk on before earning a full scholarship.
Still, Brown never had a doubt. Suiting up for the Owls against Maryland this Saturday, he will return to play football in a state he left years ago to chase the dream he's living.
"It feels good, but we're still not where we want to be," Brown said. "When I finish, I'll be able to look back and enjoy it."
Growing up in West Baltimore until his sophomore year in high school, Brown and his family felt it was smarter, and safer, for the youngster to escape the city and enroll in a private boarding school in New Jersey.
Life couldn't have been more different.
"A lot was going on in Baltimore and I just needed a change," Brown said. "It was a 180 [-degree change] really. I lived at the school and it was just a different kind of people. It prepared me for college."
Despite becoming a dominant cornerback at the school and even turning heads at an all-star game in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Brown didn't receive much attention aside from Division II schools.
"I just felt like I didn't exist as a player," Brown said. "I didn't have any communication with anyone."
Brown kept his dreams alive by playing for the Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y., which has produced NFL starters LeSean McCoy and Shonn Greene. Returning kicks, playing slot receiver and rotating in at running back, Brown made an impact once again. He even set a school record with nine kickoff-return touchdowns in 12 games.
"Pound for pound, my D-line used to say, he was the hardest runner by far," Milford coach Bill Chaplick said. "He's a great kid, high-energy kid and definitely loves football."
He loved the sport so much that even though he still hadn't received an offer after a year of prep school, he walked on at Temple in the spring semester. Within weeks of spring practice, Brown had already earned the respect of his coaches.
Named the Most Valuable Player of the spring, Brown finally received his scholarship. Then-coach Al Golden has just one stipulation. He had to cut his hair.
"I was mad I had to cut it, but really I was just happy to finally get it," Brown said. "I felt like I really accomplished something."
Since, the running back has been nothing but a surprise for the coaching staff. In his first two seasons, Brown scored 12 touchdowns and is now the team's starting kickoff returner. He began this season as an All-Mid-American Conference third-team selection by Phil Steele.
Despite his relatively small stature, Brown has had no trouble adjusting to the highest level of college football.
"He plays a big man's game and he's not a very big man," Temple running backs coach Tyree Foreman said. "But his heart makes up the difference in his size. His heart is larger than anyone else I've been around."
Even more so, though, Brown brings a bright personality to a locker room that sorely needed it. The program had suffered 18 straight losing seasons. But in Brown's two seasons, the Owls are a combined 17-8. Although he's not the main reason for the turnaround, the running back has certainly brought life back to the dormant program.
"Matt Brown has a magnetic personality," Foreman said. "He draws attention to him in every room he's in. He has a big heart, and he gives everything that he has. Guys really respect him."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times