Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Editor's note: This is an excerpt from the book, "Cougar Converts: Life-Changing Stories from BYU Athletics," by Talo Steves, Jedd Parkinson and Matt Hodge, published by Totalbluesports.com.
The 2002 Brigham Young University football recruiting class was widely considered the best in school history, at least on paper. Even after the last-minute defection of five-star defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to Oregon, the class still included three five-star recruits and three four-star recruits. Expectations were high, but the next few years would demonstrate that recruiting is an inexact science and star ratings don’t always translate to impact on the field.
Ben Olson, the nation’s top quarterback recruit who headlined the class, would redshirt as a freshman, serve a mission to Canada and then transfer to UCLA, where his career never matched his immense hype due to injuries and ineffectiveness. Walt Williams, a five-star, all-world junior college cornerback, signed but never enrolled at BYU or anywhere else and remains an Internet legend and man of mystery to this day. Scott Young, a five-star defensive tackle out of Dixie College, did contribute, but did so after being switched to the offensive line his senior season.
Like Young, four-star defensive tackle signee Jake Kuresa was also moved from defensive tackle to the offensive line, where he became a solid four-year starter for the Cougars. Four-star junior college safety Chad Barney, also from Dixie College, became a starter for the Cougars, but was never a game-changer at the Division I level. Mulivai Pula, the explosive running back out of Hawaii’s Kahuku High School who looked like the second coming of Luke Staley on film, eventually enrolled at Dixie College due to academics and never made it back to BYU.
Fortunately for BYU fans, four other players from the 2002 signee list made a tremendous impact on the program in spite of being some of the lowest-rated recruits of the class. Two-star linebacker Bryan Kehl and unranked players Fui Vakapuna, Andrew George and Curtis Brown would become household names to BYU fans in spite of receiving limited attention from the national recruiting services. All four players excelled on the field, but Brown arguably made the greatest impact of the four.
A native of Palmdale, Calif., Brown was unknown to all but the most ardent fans when he signed with the Cougars on Feb. 6, 2002. Although Brown rushed for an astounding 7,045 career yards for Paraclete High School, Gary Crowton and the BYU staff didn’t begin to pursue him in earnest until late in the recruiting season. In spite of the limited early recruiting attention, Brown signed with BYU and made his mark on the field, eventually leaving BYU as the school’s career rushing leader with 3,193 yards. He also finished with 34 touchdowns and a school-record 15 100-yard rushing games to his credit.
Football stardom didn’t arrive overnight for Brown. Like most freshmen, he was used sparingly during his first year of Division I football, but in the fifth week of the season against Utah State, Brown gave Cougar fans a preview of what was to come. Brown broke onto the scene that day, leading a BYU comeback that erased a 34-7 halftime deficit as the Cougars pulled out a 35-34 win on the road in Logan. The true freshman finished the day with 217 yards rushing and three touchdowns, adding another 49 yards on four receptions.
As he began preparing for his sophomore season, Brown was disappointed to learn that the coaches planned to redshirt him in 2003. He had been anxious to improve on his solid freshman performance, but the redshirt year became an important time of introspection and personal growth.
“I was just trying to figure out life in general,” Brown explained. “Obviously coming to BYU, I had high expectations as far as football was concerned, then having to redshirt I realized there was more to life than football.”
During the redshirt season, Curtis was sharing an apartment with LDS teammates Corby Hodgkiss and Kellen Fowler, and he often found himself alone on Sundays.
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