NWI Times: Jim Peters: Dream Chaser
July 14, 2012
For the last eight years, before he reaches the end of the day and puts his head down to sleep, Antoine Brown has bowed his head and taken a knee.
"I've prayed every night since I was 17 to make the dream a reality," Brown said of his desire to play in the National Football League. "The dream is always going to be there. I want it so much, more than anybody can explain."
The obstacles, like the defenses that were stacked to stop 'P-Town' as a record-breaking tailback at Portage in 2003-04, have been many. Brown broke his leg in the final seconds of a sectional win over Valpo as a senior, causing the Division I scholarship offers to vanish. He walked on at Kentucky, spending three non-descript seasons of little or no action with the Wildcats.
"It was a pretty dark chapter," Brown said. "Mentally, I wasn't there. But it was a learning lesson I had to go through to become a stronger person, mentally and physically."
Brown transferred to Indiana State, where he enjoyed some modest success as a senior. He then spent time training at the St. Vincent's Sports Performance Center in Indianapolis. Brown signed Indoor Football League contracts with the Bloomington (Ill.) Extreme in 2010 and Chicago Slaughter in 2011, but never played a down for either team. Yet he remained undaunted.
"I found out what I needed to work on, what they're looking for at the next level," he said.
At the age of 25, the fire still kindles white hot for Brown, who still lives in Portage with his mom Althea, his 'backbone.' He has continued to work out twice a day, scheduling his training around his job at a water treatment facility in South Haven. Friends Fred Blue and Anthony Curry from Merrillville put Brown in contact with Brian Brundage of Worldwide Career Management, and he signed on with the firm a couple months ago in hopes of improving his chances of getting a look.
"We talked about goals in life, what's next in the process," Brown said. "I'm happy I got the chance with WCM, to be able to have them market my name out there, to showcase my ability, my talent, how hard I've worked to craft my skills. I'm in the best shape of my life."
A rock solid 5-foot-9, 207 pounds, Brown still has the blazing 4.4/40 speed that left defenders in his dust in high school. In order to improve his stock, he's developed the skills to also play wide receiver, refining his footwork, route running and eye-hand coordination by throwing with former teammate Jake Huston and Tommy Finn (Andrean).
"From the first time I saw him, I feel it's been a 100 percent change," Brundage said. "He's getting innovative training that he's never gotten before. Athletically, he's amazing. Before, he was just a hot rod. Now he's a fine-tuned, well-oiled machine. Everybody talks the good talk. He's walking the good walk. He really wants to make this happen. He's been non-stop, you know what to the wall."
WCM is in the process of finishing a performance video on Brown that will be sent out to the Bears, Colts, Buccaneers, Jets and Bengals. While there is no guarantee of as much as a workout, Brundage is confident he will be hearing from teams about getting an in-person look at Brown.
"They'll be getting a wiser, more mature athlete," Brundage said. "Not having played, he's going to have better knees. As impressive as he is on the field, he's just as impressive off of it. I think listening is his best asset. He wants to learn. He wants to know what it takes. That's what separates him from all the other people trying to get a shot."
Arian Foster went from an undrafted free agent to the NFL's leading rusher, so Brown knows long shots can buck the odds and make it happen. He is resolute in his belief that he will be on a roster somewhere this season.
"I'm very optimistic," Brown said. "Anything is possible when you truly believe it is possible. Ninety percent of the game is mental, 10 percent is physical. If you believe in yourself and put yourself around a great support cast, what I call a power circle, anything is possible. I'm going to continue to push, to strive to inspire kids to never give up on their dream.