- Associated Press - Thursday, May 15, 2014

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) - As fast as John Brown is - and he is very fast - his route to the NFL was a slow, difficult one.

The Arizona Cardinals’ third-round draft pick finally wound up at Pittsburg State, an NCAA Division II school in Kansas, where he had an electrifying career as a receiver and punt returner.

He had bounced around from Mars Hill College in North Carolina, then academic problems sent him to Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, where he didn’t make the active roster but still practiced with the team.

About that time, his older brother died of gunshot wounds, and Brown says that, for a minute, he thought about giving up the game.

But he decided to carry on, in Kansas, some 1,400 miles from those awful memories in Homestead, Florida.

“I just wanted to get far away,” he said.

Pittsburg State, a Division II powerhouse, offered Brown a full scholarship, just based on what they saw of him in Coffeyville’s practice. It had been two years when he finally took the field for the Gorillas two seasons ago.

After Pittsburg State held the opponent to a three-and-out, Brown came on to return the punt.

“I told the guys when I first got in, like two months before the season, the first time I touch the ball I’m going to score,” he told reporters at Cardinals headquarters on Thursday. “We three-and-outed them and got an 89-yard punt return, and I took it to the house untouched.”

Scouts were well aware of Brown, and he helped himself with his play in the East-West Shrine Game. But his stock rose at the NFL combine, where his 40-yard time of 4.34 seconds was third-fastest of everyone there. Only Dre Archer of Kent State (4.26) and first-round draft pick Brandin Cooks of Oregon State (4.33) were faster.

Arizona coach Bruce Arians loves speed, and he sees Brown in the mold of two other small, fast receivers he coached - T.Y. Hilton in Indianapolis and Antonio Brown in Pittsburgh. With great speed deep and “fearless across the middle.”

“It’s kind of crazy because every time we talk he mentioned those guys,” Brown said. “He believes I can do what those guys do.”

He might get a chance to return punts for Arizona, too. Arians has talked about easing Patrick Peterson out of that role to allow the three-time Pro Bowl player to concentrate on his main job of cornerback.

Ed Stinson, the Alabama defensive end drafted by Arizona in the fifth round, grew up a few blocks from Brown and the two are longtime friends.

Stinson said Brown was “the slowest kid on the block.”

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