Troy QB Brown craves NFL opportunity
Levi Brown isn't going to be one of the most recognizable names at the NFL scouting combine this week, and he's OK with that.
The Troy quarterback didn't get his combine invite until Jan. 26, one of the last seniors to receive the call, and he knows he's a long shot with just being there. But the opportunity is what Brown craves.
It's all he's ever wanted throughout his playing career. The times when those opportunities have arisen, he's held onto them with both hands and rarely let them go.
"It's cool being here finally because I felt like I could do it all along, and I had a lot of confidence in myself," Brown said. "I just didn't feel like everybody else saw it. So it's really neat to be here now and kind of looking back and seeing the process that it took for me to be here is really cool.
"I guess you can say that I took the long road to get here. I didn't really have a smooth path like a lot of other people, but it worked out, I guess."
Brown started his career at Richmond in 2005 and played in just seven games in two seasons. In that time, he completed 50 percent of his passes for 684 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions. He started some games, but was constantly afraid of being pulled if he made a mistake. He played with that fear weighing on his mind every time he took the field.
So in 2007, Brown decided to transfer to Troy, a Sun Belt power that had a highly touted freshman named Jamie Hampton coming in at the same time. The two battled for the starting role during fall camp and were almost equal, but Hampton got the starting nod because he was on scholarship and had four years to be the starter. Brown floated between second and third string and started questioning whether he'd made the right decision to transfer.
"For me to transfer up [from Richmond to Troy] was a little odd, and a lot of people thought I was an idiot for doing it," Brown said. "I felt like I could do it, and I just had the confidence in myself to know that I was good enough to get to where I am now. I kind of took a leap of faith in jumping up when I wasn't even playing at I-AA."
On Oct. 7, 2008, Hampton went down with a season-ending knee injury. Brown wasn't the first to go in, but after a weeklong QB competition, he earned the starting role and finally got the opportunity he'd been waiting for. Brown completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 2,030 yards, 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions to finish out that season. He was named the Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year and led the Trojans to their third consecutive Sun Belt title and first outright championship.
In 2009, Hampton decided to redshirt and allow Brown to play his senior year uncontested. Brown broke numerous Troy and Sun Belt records and became the first Sun Belt quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards in a single season. He led the Trojans to their fourth consecutive title, second outright, and was named the Sun Belt Player of the Year.
In the GMAC Bowl, Brown went toe-to-toe with Central Michigan quarterback Dan LeFevour, who many believe is one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL draft.
"I think it was a blessing," said Richard Shaughnessy, the head strength and conditioning coach at Troy, who has been preparing Brown for the combine. "The way this thing panned out it really benefited both of them. Jamie gets an extra year of school and gets to work on things, and Levi gets to finish out his two years. It was just really odd the way it happened. Without Jamie getting hurt, we probably would not have known the ability Levi had on the field. I don't think he would have gotten the opportunity, to be honest with you."
Shaughnessy, who has also served as an assistant football coach at Troy the past 15 years, is in charge of helping players with professional ambitions after they graduate. He helped Brown and his parents settle on an agent when heavyweights like Buzz Cook started showing up on campus. Shaughnessy also talked to some 50 scouts, who initially were coming to campus to learn about the defensive players the Trojans have in this year's combine, but ended up asking about Brown.
Shaughnessy said Brown is the first offensive player Troy has sent to the NFL scouting combine.
"I keep telling him with all these scouts and guys like Buzz Cook coming in here, they're not wasting that time on a seventh-round guy," Shaughnessy said. Brown has spent the past couple of months working out with Shaughnessy during the week on the various combine tests and with a quarterback coach in Pittsburgh on the weekends. He even spent a couple of days in Philadelphia watching film with Ron Jaworski to figure out where he needed to improve.
But at the very least, he's hoping to make the most of his opportunity.
"I wouldn't want to be one of the guys who everyone thinks is going to be God's gift to football and is expected to come in here and complete every pass and do everything perfect," Brown said. "I kind of want to be the guy who everybody's like, 'Oh, I've heard a little bit about him. He's probably OK.' And then I come in there and impress them, give them a surprise.
"That's kind of the role I've been in my whole career, really. I'm kind of used to it now. I think it's helped my character and kind of helped me push through things. I know good and well going into the combine there's going to be a lot of names that people know a lot more than mine, but hopefully by the time I leave there it will be different."
Graham Watson covers college football for ESPN.com.