The St. Louis, Mo., linebacker had just finished a signing-day ceremony with two teammates at Lutheran North High School. He donned a gold Minnesota Golden Gophers hat and matching long-sleeve T-shirt, which, given his long wingspan, didn’t quite extend to the bottom of his wrists.
As Brown exited the event, his father, Concepion, was by his side, and his mother, Kawanda, was off to the car. Other students were talking in the distance, and a call’s connection to Brown was breaking up, contributing to the muddle.
“It was mind-blowing,” Brown said of the scene. “It was life-changing.”
A four-star recruit based on 247sports.com’s composite rankings, Brown is the highest-rated signee in the Gophers’ 2020 recruiting class. He considered the fifth-best recruit out of talent-rich Missouri in this cycle.
At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Brown will arrive in Minnesota this summer with the perfect football nickname for a hard-hitter: “Tank.”
“If he hits you now, you’d feel like a tank hit you,” Lutheran North coach Carl Reed told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck promoted the nickname during Wednesday night’s Signing Day Social at TCF Bank Stadium, putting it in the same context as a moniker given to arguably the best Gopher of all-time.
“If you are a football player and your nickname is ‘Tank,’ it’s like (Bronislaw) ‘Bronko’ Nagurski. Bronko!” Fleck exclaimed. “It’s just one of those names that just fits.”
Brown added simply: “That’s a name for a hard individual.”
But Brown’s nickname didn’t originate from playing the game like an instrument of war. His father dished it out when Itayvion was younger and would gravitate to his favorite girl cousin, Tanka.
“When I started playing football, I was bigger than anybody, so it just kind of stuck,” Brown said.
Brown played two seasons on the varsity team for Lutheran North after transferring from nearby Jennings High School. He felt a move was necessary to escape the gun violence and drug issues that plague parts of his hometown.
“St. Louis is a brutal city to live in,” Brown said. “A lot of my family members and my friends, they chose the wrong lifestyle. Me growing up, I was in the middle of all that, I had to find a way out. I had to find a way to succeed.”
Brown, who has a twin sister, Itayvia, and four other siblings, said an uncle and two cousins died of gun violence and another cousin passed away due to a drug overdose.
“I just knew I had to make a change for my life,” Brown said. “I just knew that I was my own person and I made my own decisions. I just knew my decisions had to be the right ones.”
One decision was transferring to Lutheran North, which Reed calls “Scholarship High,” and the school’s track record in Missouri's smaller Class 2 backs it up.
In addition to Brown, the school’s signing ceremony featured fellow linebacker Antonio Doyle going to Texas A&M and defensive back Cameron Griffin headed off to Western Michigan.
Last year, the Gophers signed three-star defensive lineman D’Vion Harris from Lutheran North, while Missouri netted guard Jack Buford. In 2018, defensive end Ronnie Perkins signed with Oklahoma.
This is just the top talent at the school, with other players headed off to smaller programs.
Brown couldn’t play varsity as a sophomore because of transfer rules, and that didn’t sit well with him. “It was a decision that I didn’t have any control, so I just had to make the best of it,” he said.
So Brown played for the junior varsity team, and that’s when Reed saw he “was going to be one of the best players in the country. … He was just so dominate on the scout team that I knew he was going to be a special guy.”
Lutheran North lost to the eventual state champion in the small-school state semifinals of both Brown’s sophomore and junior seasons. Before his senior season, they sought a change.
“We knew we had to do something different and we had to go out harder,” Brown said. “Every year we thought we were working hard and we had to work past tired. … We had to become close as a team and we had to get closer with our coaches and we had to become closer with our teachers. We had to, in every aspect, we had to put more into it.”
This quote, which touches on academics, has to be music to Fleck’s ears since he stresses his players must be “elite” in all aspects of their lives.
Lutheran North did get over the hump, winning a state championship this fall. Brown comes to Minnesota as one of six new Gophers to win a state title in high school.
When Fleck and running backs coach Kenni Burns, who recruits Missouri, went south for a recruiting visit last fall, they saw what “Tank” could bring to Minnesota
On Wednesday, Fleck compared Brown to outgoing senior Kamal Martin, who has a similar body type but came to the Gophers with less experience at linebacker than Brown. Martin, a projected NFL draft pick who will skip the Outback Bowl, played quarterback at Burnsville, Minn.
“This man (Brown) did not come off the field … ever,” said Fleck, including playing on all special teams units. “He didn’t even go to the sideline. … He did everything, and he never got tired. He just ran around.”
Brown had 105 tackles and seven sacks as an outside linebacker within a 3-4 front, and he caught six touchdowns as a receiver/tight end in a run-heavy Wing-T offense.
“I talked to him after the game on the phone,” Fleck said Wednesday, “and (he said,) ‘I just wanted to make plays for you, Coach. I knew you were there and I wanted to make plays for you and Coach Burns. When you look at this young man, he’s long, strong, very athletic, and you can see from his film, he’s not afraid of contact.”
This article was originally published on brainerddispatch.com