ANOTHER BREAK : Michigan's Brown Makes Most of Second Chance as Starting Quarterback

Times Staff Writer

Demetrius Brown, Michigan quarterback, grew up in the Overtown section of Miami, where police sirens serenaded him to sleep at night.

"It wasn't a slum, but you won't ever find it on 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,' " Brown said.

After his parents divorced when he was a toddler, Brown and a younger sister were reared by their mother, Beverly, who steered them away from trouble.

"She was mother and father to us," Brown said. "She's a tough woman."

Instead of joining a gang, Brown joined the football team at Miami Beach High.

When Brown was a freshman, the starting quarterback was shot and killed before the season.

"I came home from school and saw an ambulance near the apartment complex," Brown said. "The next thing I knew they were pulling the guy out on a stretcher. He had been shot twice."

Thrust into the starting lineup, Brown went on to become a schoolboy star and earned a scholarship to Michigan.

When Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler made a recruiting visit, he was stunned by the squalor of Brown's neighborhood.

"Did he tell you how he took me in there? I didn't want to go in alone," Schembechler said with a laugh. "They lived in an apartment building that looked like it used to be a motel. It's around the area where those Cuban refugees are living under the bridges. It was a tough neighborhood. When I looked around, I didn't see a lot of lilly-white guys."

"This kid is a very gentle and sweet kid but let me tell you something, he can fight," Schembechler said of Brown. "Anybody on this squad will tell you, don't fool with him. I've seen him play with a broken left thumb and a dislocated left thumb."

The survival instincts that Brown learned back in the 'hood have helped him endure turbulent times at Michigan.

Brown has spent so much time in Schembechler's doghouse during his Michigan career that he seems to own it.

After spending his first 2 years learning Michigan's intricate offense, Brown cracked the starting lineup last season, replacing Jim Harbaugh, now with the Chicago Bears.

Brown, a 6-foot 1-inch redshirt junior, was inconsistent as the Wolverines slumped to an 8-4 record.

Although the left-handed quarterback passed for 1,251 yards and 11 touchdowns, he had 16 interceptions to break an 18-year-school record. That probably didn't help ease Schembechler's heart condition.

Brown could be awesome or awful.

He was awesome in a 30-20, come-from-behind victory at Minnesota. Playing with a broken thumb on his left hand and a dislocated thumb on his right hand, he completed 7 of 15 passes for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns, including a 52-yard scoring pass play that was Michigan's longest of the season.

With a national TV audience watching, Brown was awful in a 17-11 loss at Michigan State. He had 7 interceptions to set a school record.

"Last year was Demetrius' first year and I'm sure that had something to do with the interceptions," said John Kolesar, a senior wide receiver. "You've got to understand that all of his interceptions weren't his fault. A lot of factors are involved with interceptions, like receivers running the wrong route."

After being sharply criticized by fans and the Detroit media, Brown's self-confidence was shattered. How would you like to be booed by the 100,000 Wolverine fanatics?

"It was traumatic," Brown said. "For a time I had no one to turn to. I was just battling with myself. I was so depressed that I didn't want to be around anyone. I didn't even have the motivation to go to school."

After being benched for the final game of the season, the Hall of Fame Bowl, Brown pulled out a 28-24 victory over Alabama with a last-minute touchdown drive.

Schembechler watched the Hall of Fame Bowl from the hospital, where he'd undergone quadruple-bypass heart surgery.

"After we finished 8-4 last year he was blamed for all the problems because he'd thrown quite a few interceptions," Schembechler said. "He wasn't responsible. The reason we were 8-4 was a miserable coaching job by me. I had kidney stones and everything else. I didn't do a good job of coaching."

Brown's problems mounted this season.

After being held out of fall practice because he had to complete a summer school course, Brown dropped to the bottom of the depth chart.

"He would not get his uniform until that was done," Schembechler said. "I'm pushing him very hard because I want him to graduate from Michigan. He missed press day, and that's why I had to tell them (the media). Otherwise I would not have."

After he caught up on his studies, Brown had time to study the Michigan offense from the sidelines, where he watched quarterback Michael Taylor lead the Wolverines to a 5-2-1 record.

Taylor, a 6-foot 202-pound junior, was firmly entrenched in the starting lineup and Brown was nailed to the bench.

Although he'd been demoted, Brown didn't lose faith in himself.

Brown persevered, waiting patiently for his break.

"I couldn't feel any resentment toward anyone because I had created the situation," Brown said. "I just had to come back and prove that I was ready to play."

Enter fate.

After Taylor broke his collarbone on the first play of Michigan's ninth game of the season, Brown got his second chance.

And he took over and led the Wolverines to the Rose Bowl for the second time in the last 3 years with a steady performance in victories over Minnesota, Illinois and Ohio State.

Although Taylor has recovered, Brown will start for No. 11 Michigan (8-2-1) against No. 5 USC (10-1-0) in Monday's 75th Rose Bowl Game.

He has completed 37 of 60 passes for 631 yards and 6 touchdowns this season with no interceptions.

Brown has succeeded after failing by devoting his heart and soul to football.

"When we went to Michael Taylor this fall, that was a crushing blow," Schembechler said. "But he (Brown) stayed in there and worked and studied to get ready. He just had to develop the toughness mentally because he'd never been put in that kind of a situation where he had such awesome responsibility. Being a Michigan quarterback is tough."

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