C.J. Brown stood away from a swarm of reporters after Maryland’s first preseason practice in August, generally cloaked in anonymity despite wearing a yellow quarterback jersey.
Sure, it was great to be back. No question, a season-ending collarbone injury as a redshirt freshman was a jarring moment. Absolutely, he was looking forward to the season opener.
There was plenty of certainty, but never more than when he provided assurances he would be ready when needed.
“Every day,” Brown said then, “You prepare like you’re the starter.”
Just more than two months later, Brown is the Terrapins’ man under center as they prepare to visit Florida State (3-3, 1-2 ACC) on Saturday.
Brown will make his second start for Maryland (2-4, 1-2) in place of Danny O’Brien, last year’s ACC rookie of the year who was bench in the first half of the Terps’ Oct. 8 loss at Georgia Tech. Since then, Brown ran for a 77-yard touchdown against the Yellow Jackets and accounted for four scores in last week’s loss to Clemson.
He also set the program record for rushing yards by a quarterback, scampering for 162 yards in an offensive system heavy on zone reads. With 315 rushing yards, he’s already been more prolific on the ground than any Maryland quarterback since at least 1993.
Without question, he was set to contribute.
“That’s always been his focus,” said Clark Brown, C.J.’s father and a former quarterback at Michigan State in the 1980s. “He’s very, very competitive, and he doesn’t consider himself to be second-string or a backup. He approached this as though he was the starter.”
Even if few thought it would happen so soon.
Both C.J. Brown and O’Brien were part of Maryland’s 2009 signing class. While O’Brien was the classic drop-back passer, Brown was a dual threat who played in a spread offense in high school and was plenty familiar with zone reads and four-wideout formations.
O’Brien emerged first as Maryland’s top reserve, then started the final 10 games last year while leading the Terps to an improvement of seven victories. Brown’s season was less substantial; he logged four plays in a blowout of Morgan State, breaking his collarbone and missing the rest of the season.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Brown said with a knowing grin this summer. “For some reason, I had to go down and get hurt.”
Leaving College Park, though, was never a serious option.
He wanted the education Maryland provided. He knew from the day he signed there would be competition. And after watching last season —- when Jamarr Robinson started the first three games, was injured against West Virginia and then never reclaimed the job —- he knew things could change quickly.
When Brown earned the nod last week, it marked the seventh time in eight years the Terps used multiple starting quarterbacks in a season. Despite some nerves, the knowledge he soaked in while both healthy and injured helped him become the first Maryland quarterback since at least 1991 to throw for three touchdowns in his first start.
It was the payoff of repeatedly preparing under the assumption he would play, even if he didn’t.
“I think he really embraced it and thought about what it means,” Clark Brown said. “It means you’re out there early. It means you’re out there late. It means when Danny’s running reps, you’re watching what the defense is doing and you’re engaged at a very high level so you’re ready when your time comes.”
Brown receives a chance to build off his first start Saturday against an increasingly athletic Florida State defense eager to confound Brown in ways Clemson could not. But Brown’s mobility —- 15 of his 33 rushing attempts have resulted in first downs —- is a variable capable of creating headaches for the Seminoles and giving the Terps a chance of ending a two-game skid.
Brown’s approach hasn’t changed this week. The only thing that’s different is he’s assured of starting —- at least for this week.
“Nothing’s guaranteed,” Brown said. “This is just my job for right now, and I have to go out and perform Saturday or who knows what will happen.”
Well, he knows one thing will occur: He’ll continue to control what he can control.
—- Patrick Stevens