Brown hoping to make impact on WVU line

MORGANTOWN — Michael Brown’s introduction to major college football came with a cruel twist.

Having never played high school football and possessing just a limited knowledge of the sport, he thought he had died and gone to heaven when he followed older brother, Joe, to Eastern Arizona College.

Joe’s college career began at Miami before transferring to Utah where he stayed briefly, and then on to Eastern Arizona. Michael delayed college for two years to serve a Mormon mission in the Philippines prior to showing up at Eastern Arizona one day to play alongside his big brother.

The Brown brothers from Compton, California, were the two biggest Gila Monsters on the Eastern Arizona Gila Monster football team.

“In juco, (the defensive players) would just sit there, and I would just blow them up,” Brown laughed. “I thought juco was the best, ‘This is awesome, man. I love it!’ And then I got here and I was like, ‘Whoa, they do this for football players?'”

What he saw with three full meals a day in West Virginia’s beautiful new training-table facility was a whole other level of awesome. The problem for Brown is he can look at all of that delicious food, he just can’t have any of it.

His menu these days consists of salads, fruits and eggs. Talk about cruel, especially for someone who likes to fill up his plate a couple of times per sitting.

“I’ve lost almost 40 pounds in all now,” he said proudly. “We Polynesians like to eat a lot. We like to be big, but I learned quick that being big is not always right for football. Big and strong is not everything.”

He came here at 368 pounds and the goal is to get to 330 by the time fall camp rolls around. That means fewer dinner rolls and egg rolls, more salads and vegetables and some extra time with strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph.

Brown says he is even to the point now where it’s no problem eating broccoli without a chaser.

“I like broccoli,” he says.

Brown’s 2018 season at WVU playing for Dana Holgorsen and then-offensive line coach Joe Wickline consisted of just 35 plays, mostly on special teams, before he was redshirted. Because he was so big, he could only play a handful of plays before getting winded.

He also had a difficult time understanding what to do.

“Last year I was lost,” Brown admitted. “I knew somewhat, but I was confused and I always needed to confirm things if they were right or wrong. (At the Division I level), I go off the ball and they go that way and I’m like ‘oh no.’ I will get impatient and try and attack them and then they move and I have a missed assignment.”

New West Virginia offensive line coach Matt Moore could see immediately how well the junior moved around for a man his size, which is why schools such as Alabama, Texas, Oregon and Georgia started calling him once they found out that he committed to West Virginia, but Moore needed to take some extra time to teach him what to do.

The last thing in the world you want to do is have a player that big and that strong get his feet tied up because he’s confused.

“He made sure I understood things before I did them myself,” Brown said. “He will double check and sometimes triple check. Coach (Joe) Wickline, I love that guy to this day because Wickline gave me the opportunity to come here. He was like my dad coach if you ask me, 100 percent real, but coach Moore has definitely helped me get my knowledge game to a higher place.”

In defense of Wickline, he was right in the middle of the season and he needed to get five players ready for each game so he didn’t have a lot of extra time to work with the younger and inexperienced players.

Moore had the time this spring, and he took advantage of it with Brown. Last week, Neal Brown called his left guard “one of the most improved players” of spring practice during his Big 12 teleconference.

The head coach believes Brown’s, size, speed and strength make him “a Big 12 player.” That bodes well for a West Virginia offensive line seeking three replacements on last year’s unit that helped pave the way for the Mountaineers to average an impressive 512.2 yards per game.

WVU has senior tackle Colton McKivitz back to man Yodny Cajuste’s left tackle slot and junior Josh Sills is back at right guard. McKivitz and Sills could be All-Big 12-caliber players, Neal Brown believes.

Kelby Wickline has some experience and heads into the fall as the team’s top right tackle while junior Chase Behrndt is the No. 1 center right now.

With Sills and Brown at the guards, that’s a couple of 330-pound-plus guys capable of moving some Earth — one with a hairstyle that would make Ric Flair jealous (Sills) and the other sporting a closely cropped mane per his wife’s orders (Brown).

“I was growing my hair out, but the whole wedding situation, I had to look good,” Brown explained. “I’m the only Polynesian here so I wanted to grow my long hair out and get it braided, but my wife said ‘no, you have to look good and handsome’ so I’m just keeping it short.”

It’s understandable that Brown is closely adhering to all of his wife Anna Marie’s wishes since they’ve only been married for a couple of months. He still hasn’t found out yet what the rest of us married guys discovered the hard way – an unhappy wife means an unhappy life!

The two met in Arizona and got hitched there on March 15. He says the honeymoon will be someplace in West Virginia.

Star City? Granville? Osage? Preston County? It doesn’t really matter because they’ve got each other, and Brown couldn’t be happier with the way things are going these days.

Now, if he could only get his hands on a couple steaks, some biscuits and gravy, cookies and a slice or two of pie, then things would really be Almost Heaven around here.

— John Antonik, wvusports.com

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