The months following Keith Brown's junior football season at Suitland High School (District Heights, Md.) have been an emotional roller coaster. From earning All-State honors to the passing of his head coach and mentor to a top performance at the Baltimore Nike Combine, the junior is trying to keep himself focused on the future and trying to become more of a leader.
Brown, who did not play organized football until eighth grade, was expected to be one of the Rams' best players heading into his junior season. At 5-foot-8, 195 pounds, the running back and strong safety did not disappoint.
On offense, Brown rushed for 500 yards and nine touchdowns, and racked up 200 receiving yards and four more touchdowns. On defense, the junior recorded 80 tackles, four interceptions and one sack -- earning Big School All-State honorable mention honors as a defensive back.
"Keith is a superior athlete," Suitland assistant coach Eric Wade said. "He doesn't have any weaknesses in his body or his game."
Unfortunately, the high of the all-state honor lasted only nine days.
On Dec. 31, Suitland's longtime head coach Nick Lynch died in a two-car crash.
"This is a team sport. He really brought us together with that -- especially me," Brown said. "I have a father figure -- my stepfather -- but [Lynch] really took me under his wing and now he's gone."
Lynch took over a Suitland program that had never made the playoffs and turned the Rams into a perennial title contender. In his 13 years as head coach, Lynch won two Class 4A state championships (2004, 2006).
The loss of Lynch shook the Suitland program, but now the team has begun to rally and the players have begun to take it upon themselves to prepare for the upcoming year -- a season they have already dedicated to Lynch.
"We were already a family, but that just made us value each other more. You just never know what's going to happen. That just made us look at each other and [say], 'You're my brother. You got my back, I got your back -- I'm your keeper. Whatever you need, I got you.' We just work hard and dedicate everything to [Lynch]," Brown said.
Three months after Lynch's passing, 30 members of the Suitland football team traveled to the Nike Baltimore Combine at M&T Bank Stadium.
Brown walked away with the best showing of the team, but the players were quick to give credit to their former head coach.
"We're just showing everyone that we can do it," Brown said at the Nike Combine. "Everybody's doubting that we can do it because he is gone."
Brown posted the 17th-best SPARQ Rating* of the more than 1,500 athletes in attendance. Brown ran a 4.56 40-yard dash, a 4.41 shuttle run and leapt 28.9 inches at the vertical jump for a rating of 90.54. Brown also earned Co-MVP running back honors at the Schumann's Underclassman Combine this past week.
Suitland coaches tagged Brown as a player to watch as early as his freshman season. Placed on the junior varsity as a freshman, Brown was dominant. As a rising sophomore, there was no doubt he was ready for the varsity team.
"As a ninth grader we might have done him a disservice putting him on the JV. He was just really that far ahead of some of the guys we played. We just thought it would be good for him to get that year under his belt, get acclimated to the program and then if he was ready as a sophomore we'd bring him up," Wade said. "Summer camp as a sophomore he didn't shy away from anybody. He was in front of the lines in the drills; he just wanted to be the man. That's the way he carries himself and the way he performs on the field for us."
Still awaiting the announcement of who will be their head coach, Brown, Dontrell Kelly, Jeremiah Johnson and Darius Arrington have taken it upon themselves to provide some of the leadership that is missing with Lynch's passing.
"I'm trying to get some organization. We have a young team and sometimes people can be immature. We just try to level them -- stepping into a big brother role, trying to get them on track," Brown said.
*SPARQ Rating is determined through a mathmatecial equation that takes into account an athletes performance in the 40, shuttle, vertical jump and kneeling power ball.
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