Brewer, who passed for 199 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in Virginia Tech’s 35-21 upset of Ohio State last Saturday, has suddenly been thrust into the spotlight. Yet he still doesn’t know his way around campus or have a school-issued student ID. He is only able to find his truck because it’s the one with the yellow kayak and fishing poles poking out of the back.
Entering this Saturday's clash with East Carolina, Brewer is gaining recognition. It’s an unfamiliar feeling for a player who was an afterthought at Texas Tech, where he earned his degree before transferring to Virginia Tech for his redshirt junior season.
He is recognized in the film room, where two men in their late 40s wandered in on Wednesday to request autographs while Brewer and his friend, wide receiver Charley Meyer, were watching tape of the Pirates. He is recognized in the West End Market at Cochrane Hall, where Meyer gave Brewer a tour. Two girls built up the courage to ask for a picture with Brewer while he was eating with Meyer and starting offensive tackle Jonathan McLaughlin. Two others sheepishly flocked over a few minutes later to do the same.
“Nobody wants a picture with me?” McLaughlin joked.
If Brewer isn't used to the attention yet, he soon will be. Virginia Tech takes football awful seriously. After the team’s win over the Buckeyes, Blacksburg lit up like it was New Year's Eve. People flooded the streets, climbed light poles and even burned a couch or two. When the players returned to campus little before 4 a.m., a few hundred people were there to greet them. Brewer heard the police had to ask others to leave. There simply wasn’t enough space for everyone.
“I wish I could’ve been part of a team that did something like that,” former Virginia Tech and current Arizona Cardinals quarterback Logan Thomas told SI.com on Thursday. “At the same time I’m thoroughly excited for the guys who are still there. Some of my best friends are still on that team and are still playing. It’s just awesome to watch them thrive.”
Virginia Tech hasn’t won many big nonconference showcases in recent years, and expectations were tempered on the heels of last year's 8-5 campaign. While the defense proved formidable, the offense largely struggled. As this fall's season opener approached, the Hokies' biggest question was under center: With Thomas off to the NFL, who would take his place?
The Brewer family is, for lack of a better term, football royalty in Texas. Michael’s father, Robert, played quarterback for the Longhorns in the early 1980s. His grandfather and uncle played for Texas, too. Two of his great uncles played at Texas Tech and Oklahoma, respectively, and Michael had several college options following his career at Lake Travis (Texas) High, where he starred under then-head coach and current Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
He opted to go to Texas Tech over Auburn, Clemson and Tennessee, among others. He also had offers from in-state schools Rice and Baylor, and a grayshirt offer from Texas. Upon arriving in Lubbock, Brewer redshirted in 2011 before playing nine games in '12. However, he sustained a back injury the following offseason and fell behind Baker Mayfield (now at Oklahoma) and Davis Webb on the Red Raiders' depth chart.
Brewer elected to transfer, but was blocked from going to another Big 12 school. He began talking to Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler and took a visit to Blacksburg in March. Despite the cold weather, he was sold. He sat down in Frank Beamer’s office to deliver the news.
“I said something along the lines of I’m ready to go ahead and do this and win a lot of football games here, and he jumped right out of his seat and came over and gave me a hug," Brewer said. "I was like, 'Did Frank Beamer just do that?' The Frank Beamer just jumped out of his seat and gave me a hug for committing to his school. How many kids have sat in this chair and committed to coach Beamer over the years? And he still gets up, comes over and gives me a hug?”
Since arriving to campus in late May, Brewer hasn’t had much time to familiarize himself with the area. He graduated from Texas Tech and immediately packed up his stuff with his dad. After a quick stop home, they drove the 19 hours across the country to Blacksburg. Brewer didn’t even get the chance to walk with the other graduates. His summer was largely spent in classes and meetings as he competed for the starting job, a gig he officially won on Aug. 24.
Brewer lives in a one-bedroom apartment off campus, about five minutes away from the Virginia Tech athletic complex. He takes classes for his graduate degree online. He knows he isn't going to get along with everyone, as football teams are delicate ecosystems. It’s easy to disrupt the balance. “It wasn’t one of those deals where I had to be everybody’s best friend Week 1,” Brewer said. “The guys were so awesome in accepting me that it made the transition so much easier. There weren’t any problems, but if there were I can’t even imagine how much harder it would’ve been. Then you’re starting to worry about stuff outside of football like not wanting to cause controversy in the locker room.”
So far, so good. Through two games Brewer has passed for 450 yards with four touchdowns and has started to develop a rapport with veteran targets Ryan Malleck and Willie Byrn, as well as freshman skill-position players like tight end (and converted quarterback) Bucky Hodges, tailback Shai McKenzie and receiver Isaiah Ford. Brewer is even going fishing with teammates, although a few guys initially joked about the kayak and the poles. Brewer decided to fish on Monday after every win -- two so far -- and isn’t about to mess with a good thing.
“You have to be able to relax and be human,” Brewer said. “We work so hard at this game. On top of that you have school. You’re managing two full-time jobs. You’re exhausted. But for me I know there’s always times where I need to get away and relax for a couple hours. When I feel like I need to do that, I go fishing.”
While it’s important that the players get to know Brewer, coaches are still learning what he can do, too. To that end his outing against Ohio State went a long way.
“We didn’t know if he could stay in there and take a vicious shot and make a play,” Loeffler said on Wednesday. “We found out he could do that. That’s huge. That’s 90 percent of the position.”
With just under 14 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter and the Hokies leading 21-14, Brewer faced second-and-nine from his own 20-yard line. He scrambled for eight yards before taking a nasty hit. He crumbled to the ground and had a tough time getting up.
“I kind of got bent around and I was having a bad back spasm,” Brewer said. “My back was just locked up. I had been hit in the head a few times. I was trying so hard to get up and some of the guys on the defense were saying, ‘We got him, finally, he ain’t getting up.’ Right when I heard that I was like, ‘Screw that.’ I just got back up.”
Brewer waved off attention from the trainer and promptly ran for a first down on the subsequent play. He fumbled after being sacked by defensive end Joey Bosa two snaps later, but responded by engineering a go-ahead 65-yard touchdown drive. He put the Hokies ahead for good with a 10-yard scoring strike to Hodges.
“I had been in the college football game for three years and I never really had a chance,” Brewer said. “Now I finally had that and was getting smacked around and was hurting and the thing that kept me going was I’ve been through so much to get to this point. I’m not about to let anybody take that away from me. I’m not coming out of the football game. That was what I was thinking about. Everything that’s happened to get me here. I’ve waited so long for this one chance."