- Adam Rittenberg, College Football
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C.J. Brown turns 23 on June 27. He's a graduate student preparing for his sixth year at Maryland. He has played for two head coaches and three offensive coordinators and suffered two season-ending injuries. He's the most accomplished rushing quarterback in team history, owning five of the top 10 single-game totals, including the top performance (162 yards against Clemson in 2011).
He has experienced two 10-loss seasons (2009 and 2011) and two postseason games (the 2010 and 2013 Military Bowls).
Now Brown prepares to play in his second league, the Big Ten, which Maryland joins this fall. The Big Ten move could widen some eyes when the Terrapins enter venues like Michigan Stadium, Beaver Stadium and Camp Randall Stadium.
Brown won't flinch.
"Just thinking about all the things, from defensive schemes to overtimes to weird calls to different situations, the momentum shifts and swings," Brown said. "You've been through it all when you've been around for five, going on six, years now."
Maryland should be optimistic about its offense entering the 2014 season. Explosive receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long return from leg injuries. Wide receiver Marcus Leak and running back Wes Brown both are back after spending a year away from the team. The Terps return five players with at least 450 receiving yards and all of their top ball carriers from 2013.
Perhaps most important is the calming veteran presence Brown provides at the quarterback spot.
"You know he's not going to get rattled," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "He's going to be the mature guy and go up to guys and talk to them and get them going [to do] the right thing. It's very comforting for me to know we have that kind of guy with that kind of experience and that kind of makeup being the leader of our team."
Brown's extended stay in college football has reached many junctions. He came to Maryland to play for coach Ralph Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin. When a broken collarbone ended his 2010 season in the opener, he watched as Danny O'Brien went on to ACC Rookie of the Year honors.
Then came Friedgen's surprise firing after an 8-4 regular season -- on the heels of Franklin's departure to Vanderbilt. Edsall arrived and Maryland went through a disastrous 2011 season, although Brown replaced the struggling O'Brien toward the end.
Brown entered 2012 as the starting quarterback and a co-captain, but an ACL tear in August ended his season before it started. He made it through the 2013 season mostly in one piece -- he missed two games with a concussion suffered on a brutal hit against Florida State -- and recorded 2,242 passing yards, 576 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns (13 pass, 12 rush).
"With what he’s had to go through with all the injuries, that stuff makes you a lot more mature and makes you see and understand the big picture a little bit more," Edsall said.
Added Brown: "It's been good to grow, to be able to put all that in the past and take a step forward."
Brown benefits from a resource few major-college quarterbacks enjoy: a dad who did the exact same thing. Clark Brown played quarterback at Michigan State in 1983-84.
C.J. was born in Michigan, and though the family moved to Cranberry Township, Pa., just north of Pittsburgh, C.J. remembers attending Michigan State games every few years.
"He's been a huge resource," C.J. said of his father. "He understood that I had coaches for a reason, and if they wanted his advice or I wanted his advice, I could go to him. He's been an open book, a great support system I could go to when I had questions or I was having a tough time.
"He's been through it, and he can definitely relate."
The scouting report on most college quarterbacks is set by Year 4 or Year 5, much less Year 6. But Brown could be a different player, leading a different Maryland offense this fall, if the injuries that have haunted the unit simply stay away.
Although Maryland flexed its muscles early last season, eclipsing 30 points in each of its first four games, the offense, in Brown's view, hasn't shown its full potential. Despite 1,162 career rush yards, Brown might not have to carry the ball as much this fall. Edsall, pleased with Brown's understated but effective leadership style, wants his quarterback to simply fine tune his game this spring.
"I see how much he's progressing with each practice we have," Edsall said. "He's doing things so much better now than even what he was doing last fall.
"That natural progression, I think he's going to be an outstanding quarterback in 2014."
C.J. Brown turns 23 on June 27. He's a graduate student preparing for his sixth year at Maryland. He has played for two head coaches and three offensive coordinators and suffered two season-ending injuries.