Speedy WR Brown returns after ACL tear

Jimmy Gillispie/Stillwater News Press Stillwater High senior wide receiver Steven Brown (13) is back on the field after suffering a season-ending knee injury during the 2019 playoffs. Brown was the Pioneers’ second-leading receiver last year. The Pioneers begin their season Friday night at Pioneer Stadium.

Through the 2019 regular season, Steven Brown was making a name for himself as one of the best wide receivers in the state.

The speedy Stillwater High receiver was hanging nip and tuck with one of the best wideouts who established himself the year prior. Brown’s teammate, 2020 graduate Anthony Bland, became one of the best receivers in Oklahoma after he moved to Stillwater in the spring of 2018.

Bland, who is now playing at Princeton University, led the Pioneers in receptions, along with receiving yards and touchdowns the past two seasons. However, he barely led Stillwater in receiving yards and touchdowns through the regular season last year.

The smaller, faster Brown was giving Bland a run for his money through 10 games a year ago. Bland had 69 catches for 979 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Brown trailed him with 44 receptions for 889 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Then, Brown’s 2019 season came to and end in the first quarter of the Pioneers’ first-round playoff game against Sapulpa. His junior campaign ended after he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

“It was kickoff and I was the returner in the back,” Brown said. “Somebody came from behind and hit me in my leg. I went off for a series and came back. I ran a fade route and just got hurt again. It was just a freak accident.

“It felt like my leg was broke. It was terrible. I knew immediately – as soon as I hit the ground.”

Brown seemingly suffered an injury on the kickoff. He came back on the field later in the quarter. On a pass down the SHS sideline, Brown attempted to catch a pass near the ground, but he dropped the ball after his knee gave way.

It was his only catch attempt of the postseason. The Pioneers’ No. 2 receiver was done for the year. He stood along the sideline for the remainder of the postseason as Stillwater went on to finish as the Class 6A-II state runner-up.

“I remember and it’s painful to think about now from my standpoint,” SHS coach Tucker Barnard said. “It was a series or two earlier where he tweaked his knee. The first time, I thought he was hurt, but then he came over to the side and they tested him out and he ran around and everything was good. Hindsight being 20-20, I wish we would have just kept him out.

“He said he was good and all of the medical advice we had said he was good. You look back on it now and wonder, could we have done something different? I think with the same information, we probably would have done the same thing. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s pretty painful to think he went back and got hurt.”

Brown had surgery during the offseason and worked hard to get back on the field for his senior season. His offseason was not only tough as he recovered, but his time on the field was limited as the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the spring practice season and summer camps.

He said he could feel himself progressing and getting better every day. Brown officially began the 2020 season when the Pioneers did Aug. 10.

A week ago, Brown took the field for his first action against someone other than his teammates when Stillwater scrimmaged at Norman High. After being away since mid-November, it was an enjoyable experience for the Pioneers’ leading returning receiver.

“It was good,” Brown said. “I felt very strong coming back from the knee injury. I feel like I’m back to 100 percent.

“It was probably the best feeling ever, honestly, coming back from eight months of doing nothing. I was very nervous.”

Barnard was thrilled to see Brown on the field, and doing well, too.

“He looks really good, doesn’t he?” Barnard asked. “We’ve been really pleased. He’s wanted to do more earlier, and we were able to hold him off. Even now, there are some things we keep him out of, but it’s really just us not wanting to take a risk. I think it’s pretty clear he’s full speed and he looks really good. I expect him to have an outstanding year.”

One highlight was a deep pass from senior quarterback Caleb Allen, who has taken over the reins from Gunnar Gundy, who graduated last year after three years as the Pioneers’ starter. Although Brown will have a new quarterback this year, it won’t feel new to him.

Allen and Brown have played together for many years, including in junior varsity games during their sophomore season.

“It’s A1, of course, because we’ve been playing together since fifth grade,” Brown said of his chemistry with Allen. “We’ve always had that connection. He’s very comfortable with me and that makes me more comfortable.”

Brown is set to begin his senior season and expectations are high for him. The 6-foot, 160-pound receiver has improved from his limited varsity action as a sophomore to one of the state’s best wideouts.

He credits former teammates for his development.

“Anthony and Jack (Smithton) taught me a lot of stuff,” Brown said. “Jack was mostly the smart one who knew all the plays, all the routes and how to run it. Anthony was more like a technique guy.”

Now, Brown is teaching the younger receivers early in his senior season. Barnard said that’s one of his favorite things about coaching.

“That’s the neat part of watching them get older and watching them progress,” Barnard said. “Steven came in here a couple of years ago to the high school team and he was a really good athlete, there’s no doubt. He hadn’t really learned yet how to set himself up on a route or how to use leverage and use his own body. The coaches have done a good job of working with him. Coach (Chad) Cawood spent a lot of time with Coach (Kasey) Dunn at Oklahoma State learning how to coach those guys and it’s really paid off.”

When the season kicks off Friday night at Pioneer Stadium, Brown did admit he hopes to reach the 1,000-yard mark in receiving yards this fall. However, his main goal is bringing home the gold ball.

“No personal goals, but the team goal is to win state,” Brown said. “I’ve got one last chance.”

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