On his birth certificate Wes Brown is listed as born in Athens, Ala., but by birthright he is a Tennessee Vol through and through — his blood runs bright orange, and his heart beats to the rollicking rhythm of Rocky Top on an autumn afternoon.
Brown entered the world on Nov. 9, 1986, a day after Tennessee scored a commanding 33-3 victory over Memphis State in Knoxville, ending a three-game losing streak. UT would put together a nine-game unbeaten streak before losing a game to Alabama in nearby Birmingham. Naturally, he can’t recall the occasion just as he can’t remember a time when he didn’t love the Volunteers.
“I’ve always been a Tennessee fan,” he said. “My parents grew up around Lawrenceburg in the Loretta area there. That’s where all my relatives are from and we moved down to Alabama when I was born. I was actually born in Athens and I’ve lived here all of my life. My parents just rubbed off on me and I’m a big UT fan.”
Going to Tennessee games has become a Brown family tradition over the years especially when the Big Orange squared off with the Crimson Tide in one of the south’s gridiron classics.
“My grandparents live right across the Tennessee line,” Brown said. “It takes about 35 minutes to get there. It’s not a bad drive at all. It’s about a three and a half hour drive to Knoxville. Me and my dad always went to the Tennessee-Alabama game and a lot of the other home games.”
Life can be difficult for a Tennessee fan growing up in the Heart of Dixie, but once Brown became a blue chip football prospect the degree of difficulty increased dramatically. Suddenly he didn’t just factor into the rivalry between the Vols and Crimson Tide, he also found himself pursued by Auburn.
In keeping with his high-caliber character, Brown handled the challenge like a champ. He took phone calls from both in-state schools long after he committed to the Vols. He treated the recruiters with courtesy and even took an unofficial visit to Alabama out of respect for the program. What he didn’t do was waver on his decision to sign with Tennessee. That’s a noteworthy achievement for a young man living in boundaries Crimson Country.
“I hear about being a UT fan everyday,” he said. “It’s been good the last couple of years. There was some pressure to stay in Alabama. Most of my teachers would joke around with me about it, saying you need to go to Alabama. But In the back of my mind and my heart I knew that the place for me was Tennessee. The Alabama coaches never stopped recruiting me. They called as many times as they possibly could. I felt like I should just go down and see what it’s like. Even when I was there I knew the place I wanted to go was Tennessee.”
Although Alabama was relentless in its pursuit of Brown, the steady consistency of UT defensive coordinator John Chavis created a bond that combined with the prospect’s passion for Tennessee proved unbreakable.
“I think when it came down to it coach Chavis was just as good as he can be and Wes always wanted to go to Tennessee and run through the T,” said Athens High School head coach Allen Creasy. “That was something no other school ever had an opportunity to overcome. I think Wes being the respectful kid that he is listened to other coaches. He was always respectful of the Alabama and Auburn fans around here, but I don’t think there was ever any doubt he was going to be a Tennessee Vol.”
Brown credited Chavis’ straightforward advice about the pitfalls of the recruiting process and his down-to-earth manner with making his decision easier.
“Coach Chavis is great just like the other coaches at Tennessee,” Brown stated. “He told me from the start that many schools would tell me ‘you can come in and start or play as a freshman.’ Coach Chavis told me you’ll be as good as you want to be. He said: ‘if you come in here and bust your butt you’ll be playing, and if you come in here and lag then you won’t. He was real truthful with me the whole time. He’s real straightforward and I think the world of him.”
After sticking to his pledge and signing with Tennessee, Brown discovered there was a whole lot of people he didn’t even know that thought the world of him.
“There’s more Tennessee fans here than you’d think,” he said. “Since I’ve signed I’ve had a lot of people I never knew come up to me and tell me they were Tennessee fans and were glad I signed with the Vols.”
Two people who never put pressure on him during a long and arduous recruiting campaign were his parents, Jeff and Patricia Brown, although public perception was quite another matter.
“Many people blame my dad for the decision I made going to Tennessee,” Brown explained. “But my family told me ‘if you want to visit this place we’ll be happy to go with you and take you. We want you to make the decision for you. If you choose Tennessee that’s great but if you choose some other place we’ll be the biggest fans of that school.’ They were just 100 percent behind me.”
Obviously, Jeff and Patricia had a lot of confidence in their son’s upbringing.
Even if Wes Brown wasn’t the No. 4 rated high school football prospect in Alabama or one of the top 25 linemen in the nation, he would have still probably chosen to attend the University of Tennessee.
However, without those impressive qualifications he would be sitting in the student section at Neyland Stadium next fall instead of standing on the groomed grass of Shield-Watkins Field. Furthermore, his parents would be footing the bill and you wouldn’t be reading about him right now. Game has its privileges.
Brown’s largess of athletic talent, refined technique and serviceable size made him a hot commodity, however it’s his dedication, intelligence and intensity that make him a truly special player.
“We knew when he was in middle school he was going to be a special player because of his work ethic,” said Athens head football coach Allen Creasy. “He loved the game. He worked hard and his motor always ran. He always played at a high level of intensity. You could see that in him early on. As he got into the high school program we realized how athletic he was. He’s always been tall. He’s always had good size, not great size, but he was a big kid who came in and started for us at offensive guard.”
His outstanding mobility helped make Brown an immediate success as a pulling guard where he could lead power sweeps and chop down defenders in open space.
“He wasn’t the biggest or strongest guard but he was great in open field, changing directions and blocking defenders,” said Creasy. “He was a pulling guard. Basically he was a fullback on the line of scrimmage. We ran the toss sweep a lot and he was the lead blocker and he did a great job getting out in front of the play.”
Until his solid sophomore season some observers in Athens thought Brown’s future might be as a pitcher instead of a football player. At 6-foot-4 Brown had the leverage to bear down on hitters, plus he had the advantage of being a left-hand hurler, which are hard to find and harder to hit.
“He’s the No. 1 pitcher on our baseball team,” Creasy said. “He has good velocity and good control plus he swings a pretty mean bat. He has several different pitches he can throw and he can also throw it by you. He’s a very smart player. He understands the game and he’s very athletically oriented. That carries over into his play.”
It was his athletic ability that convinced Athens coaching staff Brown would be a natural at tight end so he was moved there prior to his junior season and displayed big time potential as both a blocker and receiver. Brown’s football future might have been set if not for a decision to give him a look on the defensive line where his attack mentality and relentless style found a home.
“We thought when he first got here he could be a big-time pitcher but he got bigger and better and by his junior year he was the best defensive lineman around,” said Creasy. “He was making plays all over the field. We’d look at film after the game and it would be amazing how he’d cover the field.”
Brown could also cover a lot of positions as his versatility proved invaluable to the Golden Eagles during his junior and senior seasons.
“As a junior we moved him to tight end and he had a good spring there,” Creasy explained. “He has tremendous hands and of course he was playing defensive line also. Because of injuries to our offensive line we had to move him back inside at guard during the season, but he was a two-way player and he never came off the field. He played tight end and guard on offense, he was our tackle on defense and he was also our deep snapper.”
In his first high school game action as a defensive tackle, Brown played like a seasoned veteran. He recorded 83 tackles in 10 games with 10 sacks and 23 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
“He’s a very competitive player,” said Creasy. “It’s a little more mental toughness in baseball and a little more physical toughness in football. He has both. The thing that sets him apart is his versatility and the level of intensity he brings.”
As a senior, Brown would take his intensity to an even higher level.