Penn State's Journey Brown, considered among the nation's top returning running backs and a potential high-round NFL draft pick, announced his medical retirement from football Wednesday.
Brown, a redshirt junior, said he has been diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes the heart muscle to become abnormally thick. Penn State coach James Franklin said the condition was discovered during a COVID-19 test in September but was not related to the virus.
According to American Heart Association, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is the most common form of genetic heart disease. It also is "the most common reason for sudden cardiac death in young people and athletes under the age of 35," according to the AMA. Those diagnosed with it are encouraged to make lifestyle changes, including limiting their physical activity.
Brown posted a statement to Twitter announcing the decision.
"The pain of not being able to play the game I love anymore hurts and I can't explain how I am feeling right now," Brown said. "However, I can walk away from the game knowing I truly gave my all at every practice, on every down and in the locker room every day."
Franklin grew emotional discussing Brown, Penn State's breakout offensive star of 2019 and a locker-room catalyst. He called the news "heartbreaking," adding that Brown has been serving as a volunteer assistant coach with the running backs.
"We've been working through this and dealing with this as a team," Franklin said. "Journey's one of the most popular and respected players on our team. The entire organization has rallied behind Journey and his family. We need Nittany Nation to do the same."
The announcement marked the latest difficult moment for Penn State, which is 0-3 for the first time since 2001. Penn State had been vague about Brown's status since October, when the program announced five days before the opener that Brown "potentially" would miss the season while being treated for a medical condition.
Brown finished the 2019 season as one of the nation's top backs, according to his position coach Ja'Juan Seider, averaging 118.6 yards rushing over his last five games. He punctuated the stretch with a 202-yard performance in the Cotton Bowl, setting a Penn State postseason rushing record.
Brown trained in California through parts of the offseason, saying he expected to return stronger while retaining the breakaway speed he showcased last season. The running back has made an equal impact off the field with teammates.
"He's been through a lot of stuff, but he always has a positive attitude," kicker Jordan Stout said before the season. "He's out there every day helping us. He's a mentor to me, and we're the same age. That says a lot."
Before Franklin's announcement Wednesday, Penn State offensive lineman Juice Scruggs described how he has supported Brown through the season. Brown was among the first teammates to visit Scruggs in the hospital after Scruggs' 2019 car accident.
"I'm just doing the same thing he did for me, which is being there for him whenever he needs me," Scruggs said. "Just letting him know how much I love him and that I'm always going to be here for him. Through this time, we're just staying with him, having his back, 100 percent. The whole team."
On Tuesday, the Big Ten Network aired a one-hour documentary about Adam Taliaferro, the former Penn State cornerback who sustained a serious back injury in a game against Ohio State in 2000. The injury ended Taliaferro's playing career, but he underwent a year of recovery and returned to Beaver Stadium in 2001, when he ran onto the field before a game.
Franklin, fighting back tears, said he wanted to connect Taliaferro with Brown.
"He's handled it better than I think anybody I've ever been around," Franklin said of Brown. "He's going to be very successful. And I don't know if he wants to stay in football or whatever he decides to do, but he's going to be unbelievably successful."
Penn State visits Nebraska on Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for noon ET on FS1.
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