Yesterday marked the culmination of a long journey for Andrew Brown.
That journey began at age 11 for the 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive lineman. That was when he lost his mother to cancer.
“Growing up, Andrew had a lot of dreams of wanting his mother to be able to see him do the things that he was doing,” said Brown’s father, Andrew Brown Sr.
Understandably, the following Mother’s Day was difficult.
“When he was in 6th grade, he came home crying one day because all the kids in the class were making cards for their mothers for Mother’s Day,” said Brown Sr. “And he couldn't make one because his mother wasn't here."
"So, I had him go back to class the next day and make a card for his grandmother because that’s the next woman in line that he can say is a mother. As a father, that was tough for me. There were a lot of situations like that where I said what I do? But Andrew pushed through it.”
The following year, Brown continued to push.
“He was always overweight,” said Brown Sr. “In the 7th grade, he was 6-feet tall and 277 pounds. Then I said, OK -- enough is enough. So, I put him to work -- playing basketball -- playing football.”
“We really started working with him -- doing ladders and working with his hands. And he just blossomed from there. I never knew he would turn out to be this way.”
A year later, that overweight 7th-grader was a distant memory. Going into his 8th grade football season, Brown was 6-1 and 225 pounds.
Over the next few months, Brown Sr. realized his son was going to be a special football player.
The following summer is when the recruiting process began for Brown. Before he ever played a down of high school football, Old Dominion offered him a scholarship. From there, the process intensified.
That fall, Brown started on the varsity football team at Indian River High School. Shortly thereafter, came offers from Virginia and Virginia Tech. Then the offers started to pour in.
Every big-time college football program in the country wanted Andrew Brown.
“At first, it was fun,” Brown Sr. said. “Andrew is such a humble kid. It was exciting for a moment, but it didn't even phase him. But for me, it was like wow -- this is starting to get really big.”
Towards the end of his junior season, Brown had to start making some tough decisions.
“I said you’re on the clock now -- you have to make a decision about where you want to be,” Brown Sr. said.
“So, I started putting together some questions and things that would help him make a good decision. Then we started visiting schools, talking to coaches and really trying to find him home. It wasn't all about football with Andrew either because he’s always been academically sound.”
All the coaching staffs made their case of why Brown should attend their school.
“It didn't start taking a toll on him until the pressure started coming,” said Brown Sr. “College coaches would ask him is this where you want to be? They said this is what we can do for you while you’re here. Everybody was saying the same thing. All the schools had great academics, great football facilities, great football teams and great coaches.”
Andrew Brown Sr. said choosing a college was difficult, but it was choice his son had to make on his own.
“I never told him where to go,” Brown Sr. said. “When he said this is where I want to be and made a commitment, as a man, I had to step in and make sure he lives up to his word. All he has is his word and when you tell someone you’re going to do something -- you do it.”
In the end, the school was Virginia. Brown Sr. supported his son’s decision and took comfort knowing that he would play for head coach Mike London.
“Mike London is probably the best coach that I've ever met,” Brown Sr. said. “Out of all the coaches, he’s the only one that looked me square in the eye and told me he would take care of my son while he’s in college. He said there was nothing that meant more to him then doing that for me.”
When his son made his announcement, it was a bittersweet moment for his father.
“I’m excited that it’s over, but it makes me reflect back on his childhood,” said Brown Sr. “Finding old pictures -- seeing where he’s been -- and where he’s at now. Because in six months, he leaves for college.”
“I’m going to miss him. We've been through a lot together. It’s just been me and him since his mother passed away. It was a hard process, trying to get him through that because he was only 11 when it happened. I had to help him deal with all those emotions and teach him to channel those emotions through football.”
Football could allow him to do something he has wanted to do since the death of his mother.
“The one thing he’s always said he wanted to do since she passed away, is to open a cancer center to memorialize his mother,” said Brown Sr. “And the only way he’s going to be able to do that is using football and going to school and getting a degree to assist him with that process.”
His father believes his son's unselfishness and determination will allow him to accomplish the goal he set nearly seven years ago.
“That was another driving factor to push him to be great,” Brown Sr. said. “I believe that’s why he’s going to be successful. When you can say you’re doing something to benefit other people, then I believe you will be successful in achieving that goal you set.”
When his son moves on to Virginia in January, Brown Sr. said the things he is looking forward to most have nothing to do with football.
“I want him to get his degree,” Brown Sr. said. “That’s No. 1. Also, him being able to explore and learn how to think as a man and to be more responsible and trustworthy.”
Yesterday, though, was about the past and present.
“I've pushed him hard for five years -- five long years," said Brown Sr. "Everyday, all day, I've been on him. For one day, I wanted him to say this is my time. I wanted him to celebrate his success and celebrate all that he’s accomplished at this age, so he can prepare for the next level.”