FanHouse correspondent Steve Franklin covers East Carolina football for the Washington Daily News, so from time to time, Steve will deliver in-depth gridiron reports from the South. In his first installment, Steve talks to talented UConn running back Donald Brown, who was the lone bright spot in the Huskies' road loss to UNC.
Folks around Storrs, Connecticut began to take notice of Donald Brown when he first stepped onto the football field donning the blue and white of the University of Connecticut in August of 2006.
In his collegiate debut, as a redshirt freshman, the Huskies' running back toted the ball 18 times for 118 yards and quickly became a fan favorite of UConn followers.
Two years later, the rest of the college football world is finally figuring out what those from the Nutmeg State have been saying for the past year and a half: Donald Brown is one of the best college football players in the country.
"Wow, that kid is good," said University of North Carolina defensive tackle Marvin Austin after Brown rushed for 161 yards and a touchdown in the Tar Heels' 38-12 victory on Oct. 4. "He's a great back. Definitely one of the best we've seen. He runs hard and he's quick. He's the total package."
Brown leads the nation in rushing yards per game, as he's averaged 177.8 yards per game in the Huskies' six contests this season.
The junior ball carrier has rushed for 100 yards or better in every game in 2008 (five straight games of 150 yards or more), including a career-best 214 yards in a win over Temple on Sept. 6.
"He's done a very good job, in my opinion, of reading his blocks and having good patience in terms of seeing things," Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said. "His vision is very good and he's done a good job of understanding things in front of him better than he has in other years. He's done a good job of setting things up for the offensive linemen as well."
Brown was the first running back to reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark this season, when he surged past the milestone against UNC. He finished the Oct. 4 contest as the nation's leading rusher with 1,067 yards, but with the Huskies off last week, he was surpassed by Michigan State's Javon Ringer (1,112 yards in seven games).
He also ranks third nationally with 12 touchdowns, trailing only Ringer (14 TD's) and Ball State's MiQuale Lewis (13 TD's).
"Donald Brown is one of the best running backs in the country," said Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano, whose Scarlet Knights are the next team faced with the daunting task of trying to slow Brown. "This week we face a back who's a dominating, traditional tailback. He runs strong and breaks a lot of tackles."
While a guy like Ringer is constantly at the forefront of the Heisman Trophy conversation, Brown continues to slide under the radar, despite the Huskies' 5-1 record.
But that's fine with Brown.
"I'm not worried about winning a trophy, I'm worried about winning football games," said Brown following the loss to UNC. "I don't get caught up too much in stats. I just focus on doing whatever it takes to get a win. Whether that means rushing for 20 yards or 200 yards."
Brown, who's started 16 games in his career at UConn, has developed into a workhorse in 2008 after rushing for 1,717 yards and 15 touchdowns in his first two years of college.
This season, he's already logged a career-high 179 carries, and is averaging six yards per carry.
"He doesn't hardly ever say a word; he just goes out and works," Edsall says of Brown. "And as a coach, when you have a guy doing that, it's hard not to keep feeding him the ball. He seems like he gets better the more carries he gets."
With starting quarterback Tyler Lorenzen sidelined for at least four more games, Brown is likely to get even more touches in the near future.
Not what the rest of the Big East wants to hear.
"He's got a bright future ahead of him," UNC linebacker Bruce Carter said of Brown's ability. "The guy is for real, and people are going to start noticing how good he is real soon."