NORMAN, Okla. — Justin Brown went to his Penn State teammates for their blessing.
Certainly he didn’t have to, but Brown did. He told them he wanted to transfer to Oklahoma for his senior season, but wanted to ask what they thought about the idea first.
“It was a hard decision, so I ran it by them,” Brown said. “Most said for me to do what was best for me. They thought it was a better move and they wouldn’t lose any respect for me for making the decision.”
That tells you a lot about the player, but tells you even more about the person. Brown will graduate in January with a Penn State communcations degree – his credits in Norman transferring back to State College. He joined the Sooners last week and likely will start Sept. 8 against UTEP at receiver as well as return punts.
A year ago, Brown was at Penn State, part of one of the most-respected programs in the country.
Now, he’s at Oklahoma, already fielding death threats on Twitter before fielding a single punt on the field.
“Everything happened so fast,” said Brown on Tuesday in Norman, when he answered questions for nearly 30 minutes after the Sooners’ practice. “It was difficult and the players went through a lot. People say I left them and I’m not a part of that, but the players know I’m still there with them.”
Brown was there on campus when the NCAA came through with crippling sanctions in the wake of the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky scandal and he was there when coaches from all over the country showed up in the parking outside the dorms and the practice field lot to re-recruit the star receiver. Brown said no Oklahoma coaches showed up in Pennsylvania, but did say the Sooners showed interest, telling him by phone about their need at receiver.
Gone from OU is a group of receivers, including NCAA record-setter Ryan Broyles to the NFL as well as a trio of others who were suspended. Kenny Stills is the only receiver on the team who caught a pass last season.
Oklahoma was the perfect opportunity for Brown, who had 517 yards receiving yards last season and more than 1,000 in his career at Penn State.
“They had a need at receiver and that’s why I looked into a little more,” Brown said. “I watch a lot of football. I followed coach Stoops since I was young, so I’ve known about for a long time, but they showed a need.”
Brown showed an interest, and now he’s changed states, teammates, offenses, but not his attitude. A rarity in the fact he’s not interested in distancing himself from his former school or interested in talking about getting a “fresh start.”
He’s at Oklahoma, but undoubtedly Brown loves Penn State.
“Justin was a kid we reached out to because we felt like we needed a mature, experienced receiver,” said Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell. “He was interested in the opportunity here. The more we talked the more we felt like it was a good fit. We didn’t go out there to see him. It wasn’t the right thing to do.”
Instead, Brown came to Norman to visit, but made a point of not engaging too much with the players. He said wanted to keep everything kind of quiet and not make much of a scene, but admitted he liked what he saw in Sooner splayers and coaches. He then went back to Penn State, had a conservation with his teammates and made his decision.
“The hardest part has just been football,” said Brown. “My teammates understand. I talk to them every day. They understand. There’s no hard feelings.”
That’s why Brown still feels a connection to Penn State, calls himself one of them. Yet it’s those statements which make those still connected to the Nittany Lions feel as though they were left behind.
On Tuesday in Norman, coach Bob Stoops talked about the death threats Brown has received from disgruntled Penn State backers and said the school was making sure Brown was safe.
“Don’t get me started on that,” Brown said. “It’s not like real-life situations where someone is outside of my door or waiting for me. People say all sorts of stuff, because they can. It’s not face to face. It’s Twitter. Anyone can Tweet something. You have to be responsible and mature. If someone Tweets something to me, I just say “Thanks for your support,” and move on. I don’t try to spend that much time on it.
“I took my own advice. I would make a fool of myself by responding and getting caught up in it. It wouldn’t be about football or being at Oklahoma. It would be about me and attention on myself. I don’t like a lot of attention.”
Brown wasn’t quiet on Monday, but he was reserved while answering dozens of questions, tempering his excitement about joining quarterback Landry Jones and the Sooners with talk about his teammates at Penn State and his love for the school.
“He’s a tremendously respectful kid,” Norvell said. “He felt like this was an opportunity for him. Life goes on. He’s taken advantage of it and we’re glad that he has.”
Brown will have every opportunity to shine this season, not only filling a needed hole for the Sooners, but moving from a run-oriented team to a pass-first, up-tempo offense. In addition, Brown is experienced, having been a starter in the Big Ten.
“He’s ready for this,” Stoops said. “You would expect him to be. He’s not like most guys. He’s ready to play.”
Most of what makes Brown seem “ready,” as Stoops says, is his compassion for Penn State and a maturity level achieved while a program crumbled around him.
Brown seems truly concerned and empathetic toward the Nittany Lions, making almost no differentiation between his Oklahoma teammates and the ones at Penn State.
“They will always be my teammates,” Brown said.
This fall, Brown will be on the field for the Sooners, but he’ll be representing a second team in his heart.