Duane “Touchdown” Brown found himself at a crossroads in his young life last year.
Prior to his sophomore season with the IUP football team, he learned his GPA dipped below 2.0, meaning he was academically ineligible for the season.
When Brown heard the news, he knew he had to make a change.
He took a redshirt, went to work in the classroom and, with the guidance of his coaches and longtime friend and former Apollo-Ridge teammate Tre Tipton, he got his academics in order.
And Brown is seeing the rewards of his efforts.
After being cleared to play this season, Brown has returned to his touchdown-scoring ways the Apollo-Ridge faithful grew accustomed to seeing at Owens Field on Friday nights.
Brown has five touchdowns in two games as a wide receiver for No. 24 ranked Crimson Hawks (2-0). He can add to his total at 4 p.m. Saturday against Lock Haven.
Working his way back to the field, Brown has an added appreciation of what it means to play college football.
“It was very eye-opening,” Brown said. “Having this opportunity to play on a scholarship, going to college and furthering my education and almost losing it was something I had to experience to know I couldn’t blow this opportunity. You have to take advantage of something when you have it. To get that redshirt and get an opportunity to get my grades in order and play again is something I am very grateful for.”
Brown spent last year working on academics and on IUP’s scout team. Being on the scout team was important because he wanted to make a positive impact even if he couldn’t play in a game.
“At that time, I was ready to do anything I could for the team,” Brown said. “I did everything I could to help our defense prepare and get good looks. I worked out a lot and tried to put myself in the best position I could be for when I was able to come back.”
When times got tough, Brown knew he could lean on Tipton, who is a senior wide receiver at Pitt. Brown talked withTipton regularly last year, and he appreciated the advice.
“I’ve known Tre since I was knee high. … He’s my brother,” Brown said. “He would always talk to me and let me know what’s up. He kept me even-keeled.”
Brown also credited his coaches with keeping him focused. In turn, the coaches are ecstatic with how he handled everything.
“When players go through adversity, they go one of two ways. They either go into the tank or they rise from it and are better for it,” IUP receivers coach Mike Box said. “Duane has taken every adversity thrown at him and risen to the occasion and even more. He’s the player we thought he was, and he’s matured at a level we really couldn’t have even imagined. It’s fantastic where he’s at.”
Brown was a running back as a freshman. This spring, the coaching staff experimented with him at receiver and found something they liked.
It’s translated into games. Brown has touched the ball six times on plays from scrimmage and scored on five of them, three receiving touchdowns and two rushing. He also is the team’s primary punt returner, averaging 16 yards on four attempts.
He had three touchdowns in IUP’s 54-0 rout of Millersville last Saturday.
“Just being able to make an impact as early as I have has been great,” Brown said. “I’ve been thinking about it since I was ineligible. Ever since then, I’ve been itching to get back and do whatever I can to contribute to the team. I just worked and worked and worked this summer, and I’m glad it’s paying off.”
After having college football taken away last year, Brown plans to cherish every week he’s on the football field. He is continuing work on his academics, so he never has to worry about losing the opportunity again.
“I just look forward to playing every week with these guys up here,” Brown said. “We have a special group. The energy they bring motivates me.”