By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
NORMAN, Okla. —
Justin Brown eased onto his new football team on Tuesday morning. Less than 24 hours after arriving in Norman, the senior wide receiver wore a blue No. 18 jersey in his first official practice at Oklahoma. While the rest of the Sooners were fully padded and going through the Oklahoma drill, he studied the offense he must quickly learn.
That’s how the former Penn State wide receiver spent his first day in a Sooners uniform. The journey that brought him here was over.
“I’m just trying to get to know a new family now,” Brown said.
The Sooners embraced him with open arms. Brown is one of nine former Penn State players to transfer since the NCAA leveled a four-year NCAA bowl ban on the program and gave all current players waivers to transfer without having to sit out a season. Leaving wasn’t easy. It meant saying good-bye to his Penn State teammates last week.
“It was very difficult and emotional,” Brown said. “I talked to them before I made the decision and while the process was going on. They told me to make the best decision for you. They told me they were going to support me either way. That meant a lot, too; that I had their OK and approval. I’d been playing with them for three years. It means a lot to me.”
It clearly means a lot to OU to have him.
Brown adds something the Sooners’ receiver corps lacks — experience. Brown saw duty in 30 games over the previous three seasons, collecting 73 receptions for 1,047 yards (14.9 avg.) with three touchdowns. His career receiving yardage total ranks 20th in Penn State history. He also returned 49 punts for 338 yards.
The only player that will be in uniform for the Sooners’ season opener Sept. 1 at UTEP that has caught a pass in a college game is junior Kenny Stills.
“Maturity. Experience. He’s been fighting his butt off in the Big Ten for three years. He’s been productive. He’s been awfully good. He was incredibly impressive out there in one practice,” OU coach Bob Stoops said when asked what Brown could add to the Sooners’ repertoire this season. “He’s the only guy out there with no pads on. He can run, has strong hands, is a natural punt returner. That was something else that we were excited about with him. A big strong guy like that — punt return wise — he can run through those arm tackles. People just trying to grab his jersey and pull him down, that’s not happening. I think he’s gonna be pretty special.”
The decision to come to OU was quick one for Brown. He made a quick visit last weekend and spent that time talking to coaches and a couple of players at the Switzer Center. OU’s tradition was a selling point, so was the offense he’s currently getting a crash course in.
“I think everybody gets a chance to showcase their skills in this offense,” he said. “They throw the ball a lot and they give the receivers and running backs a lot of opportunities to make plays. I think everybody is gonna have an equal opportunity to showcase their talent.”
Brown is also expected to showcase his talent as a punt returner. He returned 27 punts for 220 yards last season. His 8.15 yards per return average was 33rd in the country.
The question is how long will it take him to get up to speed. The Sooners will practice twice on Wednesday. Brown will be limited to shorts and a helmet in the morning session. Brown is expected to fully participate in the second practice.
“In one day, he’s out there standing next to coach Norvell and he’s already mouthing the signals,” Stoops said. “It won’t be but a couple, three days and he’ll have 90 percent of it.”
OU hopes that’s the case. Brown’s addition quickly adds experience to a group that was heavy on raw talent. After two season-ending injuries to senior offensive linemen, Stoops couldn’t hide the excitement of adding Brown.
“Looking out there today and you see him added to the equation, a guy that’s a senior that has three years experience playing and fighting people, crack-back blocking on people, catching the ball. He’s a natural catching the football,” he said. “He’s gonna bring a ton. It’s gonna be exciting.”