- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 27, 2007

From time to time, freshman Haroon Brown’s musical stylings echo off the walls of the Maryland football team’s locker room.

Amid the chaos and shenanigans endemic to the place, Brown’s contribution to the cacophony stands out.

“He’s got a good voice,” center Edwin Williams said. “He should try out for ‘American Idol’ or something. I’m serious. With some training, he could be amazing.”

The man teammates call the “R&B; Fullback” received some extra training this week for an entirely different enterprise — his first career start when the Terrapins (4-3, 1-2 ACC) meet Clemson (5-2, 2-2) at Byrd Stadium today.

Brown’s debut comes at a vital time for the Terps, who will face one of two vastly different scenarios after today. They will either be a victory shy of bowl eligibility heading into the final month or at .500 and needing at least a split of the final four games to reach the postseason.

“One week can make things look terrible or make things look not-too-bad and promising,” safety Christian Varner said. “That’s definitely on my mind. It’s crazy how one week can do that. … If we’re 5-3, we’re thinking a bowl game is probably going to happen and we have a shot to be in the ACC championship. At 5-3, everything’s intact.”

Except for Maryland’s roster, which seems to lose a few contributors each week to injury. But it also creates opportunities for players like Brown, who will burn his redshirt today.

Brown will fill in for Cory Jackson after the sophomore broke his hand Saturday against Virginia. He learned he would play Sunday when Jackson approached him in the team dining hall with the news.

“I just froze for a minute,” Brown said. “Everybody said ‘Hey man, you’re going to play, you’re going to play.’ ”

Less than a year ago, Brown was a long shot to earn a scholarship to a major program. He fielded scholarship offers from smaller schools, but had not generated much attention after transferring from Virginia Beach’s First Colonial High School to Hampton’s Phoebus High before his junior year.

Phoebus last fall won the Virginia Group AAA, Division 5 title and the long season prevented coach Bill Dee from touting some of his players still seeking scholarships until mid-December. But he believed his 5-foot-11, 240-pound wrecking ball of a fullback could find a home.

“I felt he could play in the ACC,” Dee said. “I see a lot of kids and I go to college games and I knew Haroon was a Division I football player. It’s the system that’s out of whack. It used to be you could play your way into a scholarship. … Now if you don’t get an offer by your junior year, it’s crazy.”

Brown’s offers eventually came. Maryland, which had picked up a commitment from Phoebus offensive lineman Maurice Hampton, found itself in a crunch when fullback Chris Gronkowski transferred to the University of Arizona to play baseball.

So at about 9 a.m. on signing day, the Terps sent the letter-of-intent paperwork to Brown, and North Carolina followed suit about 15 minutes later. By lunch time, Maryland secured a last-second coup.

Hampton’s presence, coupled with the lack of depth at fullback, made the Terps an attractive option. In turn, Brown is one of the handful of freshmen coach Ralph Friedgen said early in the season he would consider using.

“He runs through his blocks and a lot of guys don’t do that,” Friedgen said. “It’s hard to find fullbacks anymore. I think with him and Cory, we have two pretty good fullbacks for the future.”

Brown traveled to every road game while learning from Jackson and was bumped up to second-string before the Georgia Tech game Oct. 6. The promotion, coupled with Jackson’s rugged play, meant the chance to play could arrive quickly.

“I knew it wasn’t far from then,” Brown said. “I don’t know if he’s human the way he’s been playing out there. He throws his neck in there, and one time he played without a helmet on. I knew it was a matter of time before we needed me to step up.”

Although the Terps are injury-ravaged, this particular situation isn’t new. Almost a year ago, Jackson took over at fullback when Tim Cesa suffered a concussion in the opening series in the eighth game and started the rest of the season.

Spotted a similar scenario, Brown has no problems tossing aside his redshirt for the chance to play.

“Mentally, there’s a lot of stuff,” Brown said. “I’m as strong as these guys. I bench press like 430 [pounds]. They’re not going to out-strength me. It’s all about mentally, where you’re going to the ball and your assignments. If I can get those things right, it’ll be a breeze.”

And that would be music to the Terps’ collective ears.

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