Before the Martin Luther King Jr. (Lithonia, Ga.) football team took the field for its first-round Class AAAAA playoff game against Tift County (Tifton, Ga.) last year, then-junior Mack Brown stood before his teammates and boldly proclaimed, "I am going to score a touchdown and we are going to win this game." They believed him.
It was classic Mack Brown. Who could doubt the centerpiece of the team's offense? Brown had scored in each of the Lions' other 10 games and had reached pay dirt 22 times overall.
But when the final whistle blew, the 5-foot-11, 192-pound running back walked off the field defeated -- and without his promised touchdown.
"I was too hyped for that game," Brown says. "I should've just been calm and collected. I think I jinxed us."
After his disappointing finish to the season, you'd think Brown would scale back on placing such high expectations on himself, right? Wrong. The Florida-bound star is back at it, setting targets of 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns for his senior year.
"That's my goal," Brown says. "I am going to at least try to get close to it. If I say something, I will come through."
For the majority of the 2008 season -- his first with the Lions after transferring from Redan (Stone Mountain, Ga.) -- Brown delivered on the field, all while managing to keep the team loose with his entertaining personality.
"That's the type of kid he is," MLK head coach Corey Jarvis says. "Even though he is the clown prince of the team, he's working hard. If he's adamant and determined, he will do it 100 percent. He will get it or die trying."
Highlight-reel runs and comedy -- it's just classic Mack Brown.
Living up to the hype -- albeit often self-generated -- is something Brown relishes as much as blowing by the opposing team's secondary.
As a freshman, he frequently worked out with personal trainer Curtis Winners, who declared that if Brown continued to work hard, he would one day become the best running back in the state and a top five player in the country. Just three seasons later, Winners' vision has come to fruition. Brown entered the fall rated the No. 1 back in Georgia and No. 3 RB in the nation in the ESPNU 150.
"I never thought about it when he told me," Brown says. "I just thought about it when the rankings came out."
In addition to working out with Winners, Brown enlisted several former Georgia prep stars to help amp up his workouts. Among them were RBs Kenny Miles (South Carolina) and Caleb King (Georgia) and Minnesota Vikings DB Asher Allen.
"I feel like it has given me an edge," Brown says.
Brown also looks to NFL stars, both past and present, to advance his game. He tries to emulate the power running style of Vikings All-Pro Adrian Peterson -- "He can give you a move and run you over at the same time," Brown says -- and the flash and versatility of NFL great Deion Sanders.
Brown does his best Peterson impersonation on Friday nights. Last year, in his first contest against his old team, Redan, Brown took a handoff on a stretch play, cut it back over the middle, then turned on the jets and glided down the sideline for a 78-yard score.
The burst conjured up visions of Peterson's breathtaking runs, but it was also classic Mack Brown. As for Sanders, that's where Brown acquired his flash, versatility, fun personality and one of his nicknames (Prime Time).
While he provides the Lions with immense talent -- he clocked a 4.31 in the 40 and benches 305 pounds -- Brown also injects the team with his fun-loving personality. Sometimes that manifests itself in the form of a mock pep talk, where he yells at the top of his lungs to help the team release tension before a big game.
Other times, he shows his versatility by adding props to his act. During a game last season, a teammate was upset and arguing with an assistant coach on the sideline. The coach told him to calm down, but the player remained fired up. Brown decided to intervene. He walked by with a water bottle, squirted the player and yelled, "That'll calm him down." The gesture defused the situation and all parties enjoyed a laugh.
"I would've sprayed the coach, but he'd try to fight me," Brown says with a laugh. "Everyone on the team [plays around], but I'm one of the five funniest on the team."
It was another example of classic Mack Brown: the rare ability to dominate situations both on and off the field. And that's why not being able to control the outcome of the Tift County contest still bothers him.
"I felt like he didn't have a great game," Jarvis says. "I have been bothering him about that game. I think he's using that as ammunition this year."
Brown is using the loss and his new goal as motivation to improve on last season, when he rushed for 1,698 yards. And while he was 802 yards from his goal of 2,500, he did it in only three full games, sitting out the second half of the other eight contests when MLK was comfortably ahead. With a renewed focus and the graduation of RB Joel Knight, Brown could be primed for an even bigger '09 campaign.
He's already off to a good start. Brown will play in January's Under Armour All-American Game, and with his college decision already out of the way, he can approach the season without any recruiting distractions.
To ensure he is ready this year and beyond, Brown amped up his workouts to three sessions a day, with agility drills and yoga at 6 a.m. followed by weight training and running in two separate afternoon workouts.
"Go hard or go home," Brown says. "I will be more in shape than everybody else."
But he wouldn't be Mack Brown if he didn't offer up another prediction.
"I think I could get to The League," he says. "I could play 10 years. I am going to make my family proud."
Classic Mack Brown.
David Auguste covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.