DeKALB – Northern Illinois left tackle Ryan Brown eagerly awaits defensive linemen with elite quickness and versatility in the Jan. 1 Orange Bowl against Florida State.
Before he could tangle with the Seminoles, however, Brown first had to conquer a speedy metabolism.
ESPN graphics will identify Brown by his hometown, St. Charles, and his 6-foot-6, 283-pound frame during its telecast one week from tonight. What that data won't quite capture runs parallel to the Huskies' banner season.
Brown's rise from walk-on to national TV custodian of quarterback Jordan Lynch's blind side begins with toil and ends with routine consumption of chocolate protein shakes. There is plenty of resolve on the side.
"I just sat down and made sure starting was one of my goals and a top priority," Brown said. "Worked out, ate anything I could and just came in fighting to get that spot in camp."
Huskies coach Rod Carey inherited Brown when he joined the program as an assistant to Dave Doeren in 2011. Earlier this month, Carey was elevated to head coach when Doeren accepted the same position at North Carolina State after leading the Huskies to a 12-1 record and a second successive Mid-American Conference championship.
Carey remained in his earlier role as offensive line coach during bowl preparation, so his history with "Brownie", a redshirt sophomore, wasn't soon forgotten. Same for the season-ending broken tibia left tackle Tyler Loos suffered on Nov. 14, prompting Brown's move to the other side of the line.
Like Brown himself, the story starts on the slim side, then builds substance.
"Brownie came here as a walk-on. He was dripping wet, I think, if he was 235 [pounds]," Carey said. "I mean, he wasn't nothing. He's worked his tail off to get where he is, and he ends up most of the season splitting time over at right tackle and playing pretty well, and then Loos goes down. Now he's the starting left tackle. I think he's excited. Obviously, kind of everything speaks for itself."
Brown's older brother, Patrick, dares to say more. A fellow St. Charles North alumnus, Patrick Brown often tells Ryan how lucky he is. That was well before the Huskies became the first MAC team with a BCS bowl bid.
After graduating from Central Florida as an offensive lineman, Patrick Brown played with a handful of NFL teams. His stops included 2009 training camp with the Carolina Panthers and a seasonlong stint as a Minnesota Vikings' backup in 2011. Brown was a casualty of the Vikings' final rounds of cuts in September and signed with the Miami Dolphins earlier this month.
Once the Huskies arrive in south Florida – they are set to fly there Wednesday morning – the Browns will be reunited. At some point, Patrick plans to repeat to his brother the reasons he is already ahead. He can't stress it enough.
"Him being able to play right side and now left side is huge," Patrick Brown said. "I tell him that all the time. I never did that in college and I regret not being able to do that. He is helping himself out immensely. He's doing a great job and it's a skill that people really talk about when they look at you down the road."
Ryan Brown appreciates the praise before ultimately shrugging it off.
"Same skill set, just different hand motion and a little bit different footwork," he said.
When: 7:30 p.m., Jan. 1
TV/Radio: ESPN/670 AM
Line: Floridat St. by 13