You don't rack up 33 sacks and 70 tackles for losses in a big-time college program by being nothing more than a good workout guy. That Brown can leverage his unusual strength in game situations was evinced by a videotape that Johnson popped into a VCR last week, showing Brown bursting through and around larger linemen. "We put these tapes of Courtney on when we recruit kids, and they walk out with chills up their spines," Johnson says. "That's the player they aspire to be."
One play on the tape shows Brown, as a junior playing against Minnesota with a fractured thumb, double-teamed by a tackle and a tight end. As the tackle held Brown's right arm, a running back joined the scrum. Still, Brown made a one-handed sack. Against Purdue last year Brown evaded the Boilermakers' right tackle, pursued quarterback Drew Brees with his arms raised, deflected a pass, gathered in the ball for an interception and out-raced Brees for a 25-yard touchdown.
Last week Brown was clearly uncomfortable talking about himself. Each question was followed by a short response in his deep, quiet voice, followed by silence. This much an interviewer learns: Brown dislikes the notion that he has an edge in the draft because he has a stellar academic record and a spotless reputation off the field. When he arrived on campus from the tiny town of Alvin, S.C., his mother, Shirley Ann, told Ferrell that if her son ever got behind in his schoolwork, she wanted him taken off the team. "It's important to graduate," Courtney says. "It's one of the reasons I came to college."
The too-good-to-be-true label bugs him too. "I'm not claiming to be some perfect guy," he says. "No one is perfect. I'm just trying to be who I am. I'm just doing what I'm supposed to do."
Brown also doesn't think his reluctance to be a public figure is unusual. He believes his private life should be private. That's why he would be a better fit with Washington than with Cleveland—the Redskins already have defensive stars in recently signed Bruce Smith and longtime Skins cornerback Darrell Green, with corner Deion Sanders expected to sign later this year. In Cleveland, Brown would become a person he never had to be in college, The Man on defense. "It would be nice to play in either place," says Brown. "All I can do is go wherever I'm picked and give it the best I've got."
Sometime soon, Brown will sign a contract worth about $45 million, including a signing bonus of approximately $10 million. "Will that change you?" he's asked. Brown shifts in his chair, and then says, stone-faced, "I don't know what to say about that. I'll have to see what happens and act accordingly."
Perhaps his reticence should be interpreted as another plus. Haven't there been enough players who talk a better game than they play? Brown is a genuine person with a spotless reputation whose goal is to be the best player he can be. He plays the defensive position, the all-purpose end, that's the hardest to fill. He just wants to show up, do his job and win. "The landscape in the NFL isn't good," says Ferrell. "The league needs some good, strong trees."
On Saturday, Brown will put down some strong roots in Cleveland or Washington. Two days later he will be back in class. Rest assured, the NFL is looking forward to the Courtney Brown Era.