By Dave Krider
Bryce Brown is rated the nation’s No. 1 running back by Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports, but the Wichita East (Kan.) senior is so much more than that, according to his personal trainer, Brian Butler.
Butler, who is program director for Potential Players/LIFE Training in Wichita, Kan., told MaxPreps, “He is one of the top five athletes (ages 17-21) in the world. I guarantee there are not too many athletes better than him. There is nothing the kid can’t do.
“I’ve never timed him in the 200 meters, but I just know he’s the fastest I’ve ever seen (he ran 21.79 as an eighth grader). He ran the 40 this summer in 4.28 and 4.31 seconds. He could compete for a gold medal as an Olympic sprinter, but four years ago he set his mind on being the best running back in the country. He was a center fielder and great hitter in baseball and I guarantee he’d be drafted (if he was still playing). He averaged 25 points a game in basketball (as an eighth grader).”
Lemming, who has been ranking players since 1982, calls the 6-0, 205-pound Brown, “big, strong and super fast. Most of all, he is productive. He is an impact back who should take off as a true freshman (at the University of Miami, Fla.).”
Brown, who has a 36-inch vertical jump and can bench press 315 pounds, already has run for 6,140 yards and scored 74 touchdowns in his career. That includes this year’s 4-0 start. During his junior year, he rushed for 1,865 yards and scored 20 touchdowns as the Blue Aces had their first winning record (6-3) in 15 years. As a sophomore he carried 207 times for 2,039 yards and 27 touchdowns, while he had 252 carries for 1,472 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman.
Bryce’s father, Arthur Brown, told MaxPreps he is not surprised that his son has risen to greatness on the gridiron. “From age five, it was just the attitude and curiosity he had about sports,” Arthur explained. “Bryce would sit in front of the TV and analyze (football and baseball games). He became a student of sports and had a coach’s mentality. He has a knack for retaining.”
As a first grader, Brown began playing football with the fourth-grade Wichita Jayhawks. (It wasn’t until seventh grade that he started to play with boys his own age.) “I was a little scared,” he admitted, “because I didn’t want to get hit.”
As a fourth grader, he did get hit – by his older brother Arthur during a practice session. He lost four front teeth on that occasion.
He also played baseball in fourth, fifth and sixth grade and basketball from grades four through eight. “I wanted to play baseball, because it was my best sport,” he revealed. “My baseball coach died and I didn’t want to play anymore.”
Butler first saw Brown play as an eighth grader. He and Jaydan Bird (now a senior at Conway Springs, Kan.) were tearing up the competition for the independent Cowboys. Butler called it “the best eighth grade team ever. I went to four games in a row and neither one got tackled.”
“Nobody could beat us,” Brown said of the 19-0 Cowboys. “The games were over by half time.”
At that point, Butler and former Wichita prep star DeAngelo Evans, who had been training with him, convinced Bryce to concentrate on football. It didn’t hurt that Arthur Jr. was a standout linebacker two years ahead of him and headed for All-America honors.
During the past four years, Butler has seen his protégé grow in many areas. “He is so much more of a leader now,” he praised. “He focuses on relationships with his teammates and maintaining a positive attitude. He’s so humble and unselfish. He believes in other people. People ask him about his records and goals, but his goal is to see two younger (junior) backs break his records.
“He’s always been a big kid. One of my goals is to keep his weight down. He’s always had great speed. We work on his feet in every training session. We run ladder drills (for agility) and we dive into that whole heartedly.”
Brown says of his leadership role, “God really set things out the way they should be. People look at me as a natural leader, so I had to step up and be that. The opportunity is a blessing.”
Brown’s junior year was noteworthy for several reasons. First of all, Brian Byers, who had been a college and high school coach for a combined 28 years, took the head job at East. He was not unaware of the talented running back, however, because his son, Matt Byers, had been a basketball teammate when they were in fifth and sixth grade.
Byers said he took the job because of strong administrative support, but inheriting Arthur and Bryce Brown was “a good starting point.”
The veteran coach calls Brown “a load. He has great speed and vision and understands the game of football – numbers and where people are. He anticipates well and makes cuts that only gifted people can make. If he gets out in the open, it’s over. Most teams do everything they can to keep him from getting around the corner. He definitely wants the ball in his hands when the game is on the line.”
Brown had several memorable games during Byers’ first year as coach. During a 69-0 rout of Wichita West, for example, he carried a mere seven times but scored five touchdowns and amassed 312 yards. “It was more like they were watching him and not trying to tackle him,” Byers mused. “I think they were a little in awe of him.”
Then there was the nail-biting 13-9 victory over Wichita Archbishop Carroll, which had not lost to East in many, many years. Butler noted, “He just took over the game. He was running people over at a frantic pace. He was lowering his shoulders and knocking people’s helmets off (three times). He had been known mainly as a speed runner.”
“I ran with a lot more power that game,” Brown pointed out. “Carroll has a great defense. I kind of proved that when it’s a tough game and we need four or five yards, I’m able to be patient and not get frustrated. I had to block, too.” He finished with 143 yards on 29 carries and scored one touchdown.
Looking back on last year, coach Byers analyzed, “One of the things that probably hurt us a little bit was that we depended on him (Bryce) too much. Late in the year they lined up 10 kids in the box and it was hard to get him loose. This year is different because we are using a spread offense (instead of the power-I).
“We want to keep his carries to 20-25 a game. The year before he was getting a lot more (30-35). We don’t want to tire him out toward the end of the season. This year we’ll throw more. His production is going to be as good or better (than last year).”
Brown is slowly adapting to the new offense. He admitted, “I’m still kind of frustrated, because I never ran out of it (before). It’s an opportunity to work on other things and become a complete back. I used to just hit it out of the ‘I,’ but when I try to bounce outside defenders already are there. I’ve got to be more patient.”
Still, the numbers support coach Byers’ new philosophy. In four games, Brown has rushed 96 times for 764 yards and scored 15 touchdowns. And the Blue Aces are undefeated.
The East ace is happy to be standing at the pinnacle of USA running backs. Looking back four years, he noted, “I just felt that I had the opportunity to do it. I made all the right decisions. I had to sacrifice a lot, but I got all the things I wanted.
“I had to eat right – giving away red meat. The big one was eating habits. Most kids look forward to the summer, but I had to work out. My whole goal was to get better each day.”
He also is sacrificing in the classroom. Because he wants to enroll at Miami early, he is taking extra courses so he can graduate in December. He carries a 3.3 GPA, with math being his favorite subject. His major non-sports activity is serving on the East Youth Court which deals with problem students.
By being friendly and out-going, Brown also sacrifices time. He said he signed his first autograph as a sophomore. “It was kind of weird,” he conceded, “but I’m used to it now. People write me all the time. I went to a couple of high school games and remember signing autographs all of the game so I didn’t even get to watch.”
Being a leader and role model for peers and younger athletes also are extremely important to the Kansas superstar. He related, “I just realized this season why I play. I can help people by doing it. I can be a leader and that gives them hope.”
Recently he invited his offensive line to an evening dinner. But it wasn’t to pay them back for his 200-yard games. “I’d be buying steaks every week,” he deadpanned. “It was to get our heads right for the game. We watched film and were just building chemistry.”
Off the field, Brown could “fish all day long – whatever bites.”
His biggest thrill was “watching my brother in the U.S. Army All-American Game. We always had played together and it was my chance to watch as a fan.” Adjusting to life without Arthur “is a lot different. It’s more nerve wracking, but I am starting to calm down.”
It won’t be long, though, until they are teammates again and University of Miami coaches hardly can wait to reunite the dynamic Brown brothers.
Arthur Sr. looks back on Bryce’s elementary school days and chuckles. Rodeo – bull riding in particular – was another sport which fascinated the youngster and he asked his dad if he could ride a bull. After being bugged for a long time, Arthur Sr. gave in and was going to take Bryce to a place which raised young bulls. However, football coaches can thank their lucky stars that the rodeo portion of his dazzling career never materialized.