August 18, 2006

Blue collar backer

R.J. Brown is a name that the casual CU football fan might not be too familiar with. But the 6-foot-1, 230-pound linebacker has been one of the better practice players since spring ball began.

"After spring practices, Coach Hawkins said he planned to put me on scholarship but I actually hadn't heard anything until last week," he said. "I found out that I was officially being put on scholarship."

Brown, who hails from Honolulu, Hawaii, walked on at CU in the fall of 2004. He was encouraged to walk-on to a Division-1 program by one of his high school coaches, Jeff Cabral, the younger brother of the Buffs' linebackers coach Brian Cabral.

"I met with Coach [Brian] Cabral and really liked him as a person, as a coach and I thought he would was going to be a good mentor," Brown recalls.

Cabral's resume in Boulder speaks for itself. He has coached two All-Americans, six All-Big 12 performers and eight NFL draft picks. Those numbers will undoubtedly increase even more in the next few years with Thaddaeus Washington and Jordon Dizon still on campus.

"I think the toughest aspect of being a walk on is just the mental aspect," he said. "I have always prided myself on working really hard but mentally when you come in as a walk on, you are at the bottom of the totem pole. It's difficult but you keep on trying, keep on pushing. You try to get on special teams and keep on progressing and progressing and progressing."

For Brown, it all starts with hard work in the weight room. Under the supervision of new strength and conditioning coach Jeff Pitman, he increased his bench max by 50 pounds and his squat by almost 100 pounds this summer. Brown, in fact, ranks third on the team with a bench max of 515 pounds.

"Coach Pitman is more of an old school trainer," he said. "I really liked Greg Finnegan (former strength and conditioning coach), but Pit has been really good for me. My numbers have gotten better and so has the rest of the team. He is difficult and tough but he's fair and is making us stronger."

Brown began preseason camp ranked second on the depth chart at the Mike linebacker position behind preseason All-Big 12 selection Thaddaeus Washington. However, the emergence of true freshman Michael Sipili has bumped Brown down to the third team defense.

"Mike [Sipili] is a really good athlete and a really good guy," Brown expressed. "My goal is obviously to back up Thaddaeus but Mike is a great athlete so I have to work really hard to get back up there."

No matter where Brown ends up on the depth chart at Mike linebacker, you can be assured he will try to make a big impact on special teams. Midway through last season he became a member of the kickoff team and he also started a couple games on punt return.

"Special teams is going to be huge for me this season," he said> "If I had it my way, I'd be on every single special teams unit, making plays every time. I think special teams is incredibly important. So I want to create some turnovers and become the best special teams contributor I can possibly be."

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