Despite his outstanding production as a junior, Brown wasn’t satisfied with the season because Athens didn’t make it ot the Class-5A playoffs or have a winning record. As team captain he vowed it wouldn’t happen again his senior year and he took steps to eliminate all distractions.
“We knew going into the senior season that the main focus was to have a good year,” Brown said. “I didn’t want the publicity that I was getting to take away from the team. I just told everybody to lay off until the season was over. I just wanted to have a good year and help the team out as much as possible.”
The Golden Eagles would need the sharpest of focus because they faced the steepest of climbs, playing in the toughest 5A region in the state and with a non-conference schedule consisting exclusively of Class 6A teams.
“We played in the toughest region in the state,” Creasy stated. “We have Russellville who ended up losing in the finals. Hartzelle lost in the second round. We played Decatur and Sparkman which are both 6A schools. All our non-conference games were against 6A opponents.”
Every week was a struggle for an Athens team that was young and lacking depth. The Golden Eagles were more competitive than they were fortunate, losing several close contests and finishing the regular season with a 5-5 record. However, they did finish third in their region to qualify for playoffs.
It appeared the Golden Eagles had exhausted their potential by just making it to the post season. Instead they were just getting warmed up, as they proved by winning three straight playoff games to advance to the state semifinal contest before the clock finally struck midnight on their Cinderella season. The team that was third in its region ultimately finished third in the state and compiled an 8-6 record.
“We came together at the right time,” Brown said. “It’s the furthest an Athens team has ever made it in the playoffs. It was great to get that far. There wasn’t anybody giving us a chance even before the year much less when we’re five and five. We ended up making a good run at it.”
Creasy said there were a number of reasons the Golden Eagles shocked the experts and thrilled their fans with an exhilarating and unprecedented playoff run. Cooler weather meant more stamina for a team that was forced to use a lot of two-way players. Green players ripened in a growing season of hot house competition and the bounces were more fortuitous.
“We played tough competition early on and we were in every game,” said Creasy. “We got some breaks in the playoffs that we didn’t get in the regular season.”
One thing that didn’t change was the inspired play and outstanding leadership of Wes Brown, who never stopped believing in himself or his team.
“Wes is a great person and a great role model,” said Creasy. “He was very instrumental in any success that we had his entire career here. He always did everything ever asked of him. He always worked hard. He was always positive and when things weren’t going well he could keep his teammates going hard. There were several times during the year when things could have gone bad and Wes and this group of seniors didn’t let that happen.”
Despite facing double-team blocking schemes on virtually every snap as a senior, Brown amassed 97 tackles with 10 sacks. In a game against Walker High School he recorded 10 tackles with three sacks. He also continued to pull full-time duty on offense and special teams.
“This year especially I was the main focus of the offensive line,” Brown said. “I had to take on two or three players all the time. Anytime I could do that and make a big sack or a big play that’s probably the thing that meant most to me. It was good when they did that because it would free up somebody else. That’s what you want to happen.”
Brown showed his maturity and unselfishness by refusing to get frustrated by all the attention he attracted on defense. He realized even if his stats suffered his team would flourish. The payoff came when Athens ran stunts that created havoc with blocking assignments and forced turnovers.
“Coach put in a bunch of stunts because we had a good linebacking corps,” Brown said. “He just let us run around and lets us play. We forced a bunch of turnovers and got a bunch of sacks.”
Brown also got a lot of reps, but he never requested a break and he never took a play off.
“They had me at tight end too so I was pretty wore out,” he said. “I caught three or four passes but we ran a lot of three wide receiver sets. I also played some guard.”
Brown ran the long race, fought the good fight, attained ambitious goals and crossed the finish line exhausted. What he didn’t do was rest on his laurels.
Before Wes Brown takes off for The Hill, he will take the hill as Athens ace in virtually every big baseball contest the Golden Eagles play this spring.
“I pitch and play first base,” Brown said. “I’m doing good so far, we’re having a pretty good year. We’re scrappy and we play the top teams in Alabama.”
Brown’s next team could hardly be described as scrappy but it does play the top teams in America. He knows to make a contribution to their success he’ll need to get bigger and stronger. To that end, he is engaged in a full scale strength training program in addition to playing baseball and maintaining a 3.5 gpa.
“Tennessee sent me the workout booklet and I’m planning that around baseball games right now,” he said. “I tell you it’s no joke. It’s hard work and I’m getting on it. My dad’s helping me out and pushing me. It’s going pretty good.”
At 6-4, 256 pounds, Brown is looking to add both weight and strength in order to compete in the trenches of the SEC.
“I haven’t maxed out in while on the bench press,” he said. “The last time I did I was around 280, 285. That’s one of my main focuses, getting upper body strength and speed.”
According to Creasy, Brown has clocked a personal best 4.8 in the 40 and he consistently runs in the 4.85 range. More importantly, he has excellent quickness and superb technique.
“He has a great first step,” Creasy added. “He keeps his pad leverage low. He’s able to use his athleticism in his favor. He can get under the offensive lineman and I think he’s tailor made for that (defensive tackle) position. He knows how to take advantage of what the offensive line is giving him.”
Brown’s greatest attribute as a player is his nonstop motor. He runs wide open every game, every play, every second. He’s a true tempo setter on defense; a coaches dream and an offensive lineman’s nightmare.
“I don’t ever give up on a play,” Brown declared. “It’s not over until the whistle blows. I want to be the one who makes the game-saving tackle, the one that doesn’t quit just anything to be an inspiration to others. If they see you busting your butt to make a play it may give them the inspiration to do the same thing.”
If this attacking style of play reminds you of any former Vol defender, it’s probably not an accident. Brown has patterned himself after his favorite Tennessee player. Any guesses who it is?
“Will Overstreet,” Brown responded without a moment’s hesitation. “When I’m out on the field that’s what I think about and that’s how I try to play. I thought the way he played was just an inspiration. I just liked the way he played and as a person.”
Some of UT’s coaches and fans that have watched Brown in action noticed the similarities to Overstreet, who came to Tennessee in 1998, earned a letter on the national title team as a true freshman and started three seasons at defensive end.
“All the Tennessee fans compare him to Will Overstreet,” Creasy confirmed. “He’s that type of player. You put him down on a piece of paper and he might not be as impressive as some other people, but he makes plays and he never stops working. If you’re the guy assigned to block Wes then you’ve got your hands full because he’s going to be coming every play, all day long. It ought to help him in college because he’ll get to rest some.”
Creasy has seen a lot of good defensive line prospects over the years in Alabama. He’s seen some that were bigger, faster and stronger than Brown, but he hasn’t seen one he had rather have on his team.
“We’ve seen defensive linemen bigger but we haven’t seen any better,” he said. “He’s the kind of defensive tackle who changes what you do. You have to account for him on every play that you call. That’s what the coaches of the teams we play tell me. He’s not a brute type player that will just physically dominate everybody he plays against. He can sometimes do that, but if you do that too much when you meet that player who’s stronger than you are you’re not going to be able to do that. He’s a smart player, he understands what the other team is trying to do and anticipates it. He’s able to adjust his game through the course of a game and that’s been an edge he’s had.”
Brown doesn’t know if he’ll end up on the defensive line or be converted to an O-lineman at UT. He could play defensive tackle or even defensive end.
“I played some defensive end depending on the team we were playing,” Brown said who plans to major in sport management. “It doesn’t matter to me what position I play in college. I’m sure it will depend on the size I get and weight I gain. I just want to make the team better, anything I can do I will do. Whatever the coaches want me to do I’ll do the best I can. I just want to get in there and compete and help the team.”
Coach Creasy may have the best gauge of how Brown will fit in at Tennessee and he has a definite opinion.
“As far as his future is concerned I think he’ll get to Tennessee and mature some physically,” he said. “He’ll put on some weight and be an outstanding player. I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’ll be able to achieve everything he wants to achieve there. I think he’ll be an exceptional defensive tackle. That’s the position he was most productive at here and I don’t see any reason he wouldn’t continue.”
If Creasy seems confident in what Brown can achieve as a college player, it’s understandable. After all he has seen Brown perform some amazing feats the last four years.
“We played a spring game last year verses Grissom and they ran an option play on which he tackled the dive man, he tackled the quarterback and he tackled the pitch man,” Creasy recalled. “It was a very impressive display of his ability to cover the field. During that same stretch he made three tackles in a row. He made the play on the option and then sacked the quarterback the next play.”
If Wes Brown can summons the energy and ability to turn in such a remarkable effort in a high school spring game, imagine what he could do when performing in an SEC contest played before 108,000 screaming Tennessee fans.
Any wonder why the Crimson Tide wanted to keep him in Alabama?