- Mike DiRocco, ESPN Staff Writer
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida cornerback Jeremy Brown might never be the elite player many thought he would be back in 2008, but that doesn't mean he won't leave a pretty significant legacy in Gainesville.
One that defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said he'll talk about for as long as he continues coaching.
It happened last Saturday when Brown stepped onto the field in the third quarter of Florida's 20-17 victory at Texas A&M. It was Brown's first appearance in a game since 2010 and his latest recovery from a series of serious back and knee injuries that cost him three full seasons.
"I think it's a great story of hanging in there and keep persevering," Quinn said. "I was really excited to see him come back and do it. For him to get out and be back I thought was really a big lift for our team and really a good message to say, 'Hey, you don't always get a chance to control what happens, but you do get a chance to control how you react to it.'
"I thought that was a good message for him and for the younger players and for the team: Sometimes it doesn't go your way, but keep hanging in there and usually you can come out the other end."
Brown played mainly on special teams but also got some snaps at cornerback in the fourth quarter. It was his first game action since the Gators' Outback Bowl victory over Penn State on Jan. 1, 2011. He missed the 2011 season with a knee injury and the first game of this season as he recovered from offseason wrist surgery.
"I just felt tremendously blessed to (have) this opportunity," Brown said. "To go through so much and still have the opportunity to be able to come back and be around these guys and contribute in any way I can, I feel blessed and thankful to be here."
Brown's role heading into the rest of the season is uncertain. He'll play on special teams and will get some time in the secondary, especially with cornerback/safety Cody Riggs out for the next month with a fractured bone in his foot. Plus, the No. 18-ranked Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) are heading into Knoxville for a showdown with No. 23 Tennessee (2-0, 0-0) on Saturday. The Vols have the league's top passing offense (353.5 yards per game) behind quarterback Tyler Bray and receivers Justin Hunter (17 catches for 219 yards) and Cordarrelle Patterson (nine catches for 164 yards).
"I think physically he's feeling pretty good," Quinn said. "Now it's more of just getting back into the football technique, football shape, more just the vision of seeing things. I don't know a timetable right off the bat. Each week usually when you get back into it you start improving pretty quickly in that way."
He's a role player now, but when Brown first got to campus in Jan. 2008 it looked like he was going to be a star.
Brown impressed the coaching staff so much during spring practice that they penciled him in as the starter at cornerback opposite Joe Haden. That all changed during a summer weightlifting session.
Brown hurt his back, thinking it was a minor muscle pull. His plan was to return home to Orlando, Fla., rest and be ready for the start of fall practice. Instead, the pain got progressively worse until he couldn't even put on his socks by himself.
After numerous trips to doctors and several MRIs, the cause of the debilitating pain was finally revealed -- two herniated disks in his lower back and inflamed facet joints, which are small stabilizing joints located between and behind adjacent vertebrae.
His 2008 season was over before fall practice even began. The honor of being just the second true freshman in school history to start at cornerback went instead to Janoris Jenkins, who went on to become one of the country's top defensive backs and is now playing with the St. Louis Rams.
Brown's trouble with his back continued for two years. Despite treatment, the pain remained constant and sometimes was so bad he couldn't even get out of bed. He'd have to call the Gators' training staff to let them know he was still in bed so they wouldn't worry about why he wasn't getting treatment.
Doctors eventually found out that Brown was suffering from problems with the nerves in his back. Brown eventually recovered, but by then the 2009 season had passed.
He played in 11 games and started 10 in 2010, missing two with a hamstring injury, and intercepted three passes. He was going to battle for a starting job in 2011 under the new coaching staff, but he suffered a knee injury in August and missed the entire season.
Just as he recovered from that injury, he injured his wrist during another weightlifting summer session and missed most of fall practice and didn't play in UF's season opener against Bowling Green.
But he's back now, and his teammates are nearly as happy as he is.
"He's not one of those guys who's ever down," linebacker Jon Bostic said. "(He's) always laughing, smiling and (has a) positive attitude. I respect him for that.
"He's one of those guys who just keeps coming back."
That's not a bad legacy at all.
Injuries have hampered Jeremy Brown's career, but the Florida cornerback has refused to give up, providing his coaches and teammates with inspiration.