At 6-foot-4, 223 pounds, the boy's strength could be an asset to his father's business, but he has never been asked to load produce onto any of the flatbed trucks in his fleet. "I don't want him looking down that path," his father says. "I'm proud of my work but he's filled my life with so much joy by playing. He thrills me with the ball."
Excitement has been hard to come by the last four years. After starting at quarterback (and point guard for the baskeball team) at Palm Beach Lakes High since Day 1 as a freshman, Brown was forced to learn patience the last four years in Morgantown. Ranked the No. 12 dual-threat quarterback recruit in the class of 2005, Brown first eyed his competition for the starting job during a visit to campus for the spring game when he was still a prep star. Pat White, a slight, speedy Alabaman native, was coming off a redshirt season and left Brown with little impression other than a long run off a quarterback read. "I didn't even know who Pat White was," says Brown, who threw for more than 7,000 yards and 73 touchdowns in high school.
White's arm did not scare Brown. The newcomer had worked with former West Virginia quarterback and San Diego Chargers draft pick JaJuan Seider throughout high school. His motion was natural -- elbows up, flowing follow through. He was comfortable in the pocket and the ball exploded out of his hand. "Footwork was the key for him," says Seider, who saw himself in Brown. "A lot of black quarterbacks aren't told to work in the pocket. They learn that lesson too late when athleticism leaves them. I told him look at Tom Brady. Not much speed there, but he's the most effective winner out there."
Still, the slippery White knifed his way up the depth chart and won the race to the starting role. News of Brown's being redshirted came quietly. No coach informed Brown that he lost the competition. He read about his relegation on MSNsports.com, the school's athletics department Web site. "I just thought that was messed up," Brown says.
Brown picked up the pieces in the weight room. Already stronger than White, he added more muscle lifting with the linebackers and studying coach RichRodriguez's spread offense. He played minimally as the Mountaineers won with White. That offseason his father listened to friends say his son could start anywhere else. He was convinced Brown should transfer. "He was hurting," the father says. "I hurt for him too."
The family only discussed the possibility of leaving one time. West Virginia had been the first school to offer him a scholarship and the first to be open to him playing both basketball and football. The son valued loyalty and returned to back up White again as a sophomore. His breakthrough would not come until the regular season finale against Rutgers. White was out with a sore ankle and the Scarlet Knights were seeking their first Big East title. It was 29 degrees at Milan Puskar Stadium and Brown was the coolest player on the field. Despite throwing only 18 passes all season, Brown completed 14 of 29 passes for 244 yards, scrambled for one touchdown and connected with receiver Dorrell Jalloh for the game-winning two-point conversion in triple overtime. "Being so young, I didn't even know the type of situation I was in," Brown says.
The winter of 2008 was one of uncertainty in Morgantown. Rodriguez uprooted for Michigan and quarterbacks coach Bill Stewart was named interim coach. Stewart was promoted to full-time head coach after a 44-28 upset of Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. With so much transition and a healthy White returning, Brown joined the basketball team. "You can be our Charlie Ward," basketball coach Bob Huggins told him.
Basketball had always pulled at him. In high school he spent most summers traveling the national AAU circuit and missed most football workouts. Now the two-sport focus returned. New offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen did not get to work with Brown until the second week of spring practice after basketball reached the Sweet 16. Once back, Brown rededicated himself to football. Snaps and repetitions still went to White, but Brown started to coach himself. He studied NFL films and slipped back-shoulder fades into his repertoire. He made spot appearances on the field, and impressed Mullen. "He's undefeated in his two career starts so it's not like he's never been in front of 70,000 pom-poms before," Mullen says. "We have to see if he can do it for 13 weeks now."
When Brown has the controls and NCAA Football 2010 is on the screen in his apartment, he prefers to run Wildcat offensive sets, but Mullen has added more deep passes to the playbook for his new starter. Receiver and roommate Alric Arnett says Brown has become more vocal since ascending to the starting position. "He's getting balls to us that we're not expecting," says Arnett.
Seider knows best what Brown is going through in replacing White. A backup to Mountaineers star Marc Bulger from 1996-98, he played his final season at Florida A&M before emerging and being selected by the Chargers in the 1999 NFL Draft. "This is it," Seider says. "He has one year to show what he can do."
Adds White, who is competing for the Miami Dolphins starting job: "We're two different players, but the fans are going to see just how mature he is."
James Brown is getting excited again. His days go by a little faster, knowing the seasons are about to change to his favorite time of year. "I've always thought of myself as a mirror of my family," Jarrett says. "When you wake up, you go to work. It's time to do some heavy lifting."