A Knee-Jerk Recovery

anthony brown


oston College football was thriving in early November. Just 10 months ago, the Eagles—winners of three-straight ACC games—were full steam ahead, with their much-anticipated home game against then-No. 23 North Carolina State on the horizon.

BC was fresh off a 35-3 drubbing of conference powerhouse Florida State, a game in which fans rushed the field for the first time since 2014. Back then, it was quarterback Tyler Murphy that led the Eagles to an upset over then-No. 9 USC, rushing for an impressive 191 yards.

He also threw for just 54.

The Eagles certainly haven’t been known for their aerial prowess in recent years. Rarely has the quarterback depth chart looked the same week to week, much less year to year. Since that victory over USC, over just three seasons, five (five!) different BC quarterbacks have thrown at least 40 passes in a season.

At this point, it may be hard for fans to remember the days of 2013. Back then, the Eagles had Chase Rettig, who took the starting job in 2010 and never looked back, throwing for over 7,000 yards in his final three seasons. Add in the fact that all other players combined threw the ball just 13 total times during that stretch, and it becomes clear that BC hasn’t had any real consistency at the quarterback position since Rettig’s reign.

Last year, though, the opportunity presented itself to Anthony Brown. Even before Brown’s offense put up 35 points against the Seminoles, the redshirt freshman had already made a name for himself.

A week earlier, in Charlottesville, Brown threw for 275 yards against Virginia. He completed 19 of 24 passes for three touchdowns, leading to a quarterback rating of 97.9 and looking reminiscent of another fellow New England quarterback.

Yet, weeks later his season was over. In the second quarter of BC’s pivotal matchup against the Wolfpack—just two weeks removed from lighting up the UVA secondary—Brown collapsed on the turf on what had looked like a routine scramble up the middle, and was helped off the field. The non-contact nature of the play took the air out of Alumni Stadium.

“It felt like my knee went a way that it’s not supposed to go,” Brown recalled. “I didn’t know what injury that I had, I just knew that it hurt, and that I had never felt that pain before.”

The Eagles would go on to lose the game by just three points, but much worse news was soon to come: Brown had torn his ACL. What had felt like such a strong turnaround for the quarterback and his team in the previous two weeks had come to a screeching halt in a matter of seconds.

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nee injuries—specifically with the ACL—are familiar territory at the highest levels of football. Just three weeks into this year’s NFL preseason, 27 players have already been told by way of MRI that their season is already over before it could technically even begin. The news can be heartbreaking. For Brown, though—someone who hadn’t missed a single game since the age of 5, it soon turned into a sense of relief.

“I was actually happy because I knew I was going to be able to play football again,” Brown explained. “I’d seen so many people comeback from [an ACL] injury, and even thrive from it. So I just felt like if I stay in high spirits everyone else will keep their spirits even higher.”

His positive mentality certainly carried over to the rest of the team. The Eagles would win their final two regular season games by a combined 51 points, and as for Brown, the rehab process was already in full swing.

“I wanted to hurry up and get back to everything,” Brown said. “I’d never been in that situation before, so it definitely caught me off guard.”

In fact, Brown’s story is one of impatience. Having to let swelling go down, some athletes go weeks, or even a whole month before knee surgery. And even after that point, a massive brace and heavy doses of prescription painkillers means there’s usually a bedridden two-week wait before physical therapy can start. Brown and his family, however, scheduled surgery immediately after they got his MRI results back. Just nine days after N.C. State, Brown went into the operating room. He somehow managed to begin PT the very next day.

Since then, it has definitely been a long but successful 10 months for the signal caller. The hardest part has “definitely been the mental aspect,” he says. He even compared it to his redshirt year at BC, when he didn’t see a single minute of game action.

“It’s about the same, honestly,” Brown said. “You’re not playing, you’re watching. Redshirting is more of an experience where you may make it in the game so you have to be ready at all times, but being injured you have the chance to see what’s going and learn from what’s happening—good or bad.”

When he hasn’t been making physical improvement, it’s all been game recognition, which Brown says has been his biggest improvement heading into this season, compared to when he was healthy last year.

Through practicing, watching film, and studying the playbook, Brown was able to make immense strides even as he remained sidelined. The rest of the team has taken notice.

“Some guys sometimes can fade away a little bit, maybe they’re going through a little something,” said head coach Steve Addazio. “Not [Anthony]. That never happened. Through his rehab, every time there was an opportunity to do more, he did more. He’s been exceptional.”

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y BC standards, Brown certainly looked Tom Brady-esque in the aforementioned three-touchdown game against the Cavaliers last year, and this summer he even had the chance to meet the Patriots legend.

Brady visited the Yawkey Athletics Center in late July, and quickly made conversation with the Eagles’ gunslinger. Simply as quarterbacks, the two obviously had a lot in common, but it was also just 10 years prior when Brady was in the same position as Brown.

In 2008, it was Brady joining the long list of ACL-stricken football players. He missed essentially the entire season because of it. Brown, however, recalled that Brady simply focused on the ways in which he was able to learn from it.

“[He just said to] worry about the things you can control because if you can’t control anything that’s going on inside of your knee, why worry about it,” Brown said. “The more you worry about that, the less focused you are [about] helping your team get better. That was really, really motivational.”

Motivation isn’t hard to come by for Brown. He and running back A.J. Dillon have both been highlighted as players that have posted many of their future career goals on Twitter. The two are also close friends, according to Brown’s mother, Carissa Henderson, and were roommates during summer practices this year.

“They’re extremely close, and it’s been really good for Anthony,” Henderson said. “Anthony’s nickname growing up was A.J., so I call the two of them ‘A.J.-squared.’”

While getting vocal support from a guy like Brady was motivational for Brown, Dillon has been able to support him throughout his rehabilitation journey on a much more personal level. Dillon made it clear how important it was to have the back of a guy he believes is one if the biggest leaders on the team.

“When I could, I just kind of gave him words of encouragement,” Dillon told reporters during media day. “During the games, I could definitely tell it was hard for him being on the sideline—not just me, the entire team. That’s our quarterback, that’s one of our leaders. We’re all just really hoping for a speedy recovery. He’s back now, and we’re anxious to get him back on the field.”

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espite it being his first serious injury, Brown was already familiar with the process. His own mother tore her ACL a year before in a work-related incident. Indirectly, Brown got a sense of the approach to recovery.

“He actually came with me to therapy and got to see all the [exercises] I was doing,” Henderson explained. “A year later he was doing the same exact thing.”

Having someone in the family that went through the same injury was all the more beneficial to Brown. Henderson ensured that all the knowledge she had acquired from her recovery would be passed down to her son, and that an ACL injury in the family the second time around would be handled in precise fashion.

Brown explains that it was his mom who made sure he got ice on his knee right away to prevent further swelling. She was the one who made sure he got through surgery as soon as possible, knowing each day mattered in terms of when he would be back on the field. The experience was twofold, as Brown took notes on the recovery process from both a physical and mental standpoint.

“From the beginning, even when it first happened on November 11,” Brown said, still able to recall the exact day, “my mom was basically telling me that I have to keep my hopes up, my spirits high because it’s more mental than it is physical. [She said] the physical part will come back through all the rehab and all of that, but you won’t get back to your original self or even better if you’re mental capacity isn’t in the right area.”

Is Brown back to his original self? Maybe even better than where he was last year? Is he at least 100 percent ready for Week One?

“Oh, YES,” beamed Brown with some pride. “I’m good. The [knee] brace is cool. I’m very excited to be on the field again with my boys on this team, and out there playing ball again. It’s really fun when you have these hard working players that just want to win. Everyone around here is locked in on UMass right now, and we really just want to get this thing going.”

Honing in on UMass is one thing, but if Brown can show that he’s improved both mentally and physically since N.C. State, the days of Chase Rettig—and perhaps even a top-25 ranking—may not seem so far away.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Senior Staff

Photos by Julia Hopkins and Tiger Tao / Heights Senior Staff and Heights Staff

Ben Thomas

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