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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Bob Lutz: What's next for enigmatic Bryce Brown?


ARLINGTON, Texas — Whatever happened to "Can't Miss" Bryce Brown? That was never his official nickname, but it could have been. Nobody has ever dominated City League football as a running back the way Brown did for East from 2005-08. He rushed for 7,209 yards and if that's not an untouchable record, then I can't wait to watch the player who touches it.

The recruiting wars for Brown had everything except a video game. He finally picked Tennessee, where he rushed for 460 yards as a freshman in 2009 before deciding to transfer to Kansas State.

And then, after a couple of cameo appearances early this season, Brown disappeared. He left the team to return to Tennessee and the reason for him doing so has never officially been given. Those of us in the media have been trying for months to get to the bottom of the story, to no avail. Brown isn't talking and nobody is talking about him.

The Kansas State season has gone on very well without him, thank you. The Wildcats have been thrilled with the production of junior running back John Hubert, who was playing ahead of Brown, and will meet Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl on Friday night.

Even Brown's "adviser," Brian Butler, has said to take the "adviser" sign down. Butler says he is more of a friend to Brown and even he went weeks without talking to the former all-world running back who since late September has lived in a world of his own.

When I contacted Butler two weeks ago to see if there was any new development, he said Brown would have an announcement after the Cotton Bowl.

And that's all he said.

There are rumors — with Brown, it's usually all about rumors — that Brown will declare himself available for the NFL Draft in April, even though he has carried the football less than 120 times the past three seasons.

There are also rumors Brown will transfer to an FCS school so as to be eligible for the 2012 season.

While Brown's brother, Arthur, flourishes as a linebacker at Kansas State, Bryce has added to the intrigue of his "Mystery Man" status.

Or has he?

After so much down time, has Brown become an afterthought?

It was unthinkable that Brown wouldn't be the top running back at Kansas State this season. But, from all accounts, he never was, not even during spring practice. The questions being asked about Brown early in the season had nothing to do with mysterious behavior. They dealt more with whether or not he still has what it takes to be a top-level college running back.

It would be foolish to write Brown off. He doesn't turn 21 until May 14 and anybody who has seen him perform, even though it's been a while, would be lying if they said he doesn't have the speed, size and quickness to be great.

What we don't know, however, is what is going on between Brown's ears.

He's a smart kid, one who paid attention to academics at East even as football accolades threatened to drown his good intentions. There has been a lot of praise heaped on Brown and it started when he was 15 and rushed for 1,472 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman for the Blue Aces.

It came so easily for Brown in high school that it makes you wonder how he reacted when playing football started to become difficult.

Brown has taken a path similar, so far, to that of former Collegiate running back DeAngelo Evans, another highly-touted high school player. He played at Nebraska before leaving the Huskers and finishing his college career at Emporia State. Evans, the leading rusher in Kansas high school history, had an excellent freshman season at Nebraska, but never approached that success in two more years with the Huskers, one of which was doused because of a knee injury.

Evans had a public blow-up with then-Nebraska coach Frank Solich.

Brown's reasons for leaving Kansas State, though never uncovered publicly, seemed to satisfy Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, who sounded more concerned than consternated when Brown departed.

"Bryce is going through some difficult times right now,'' Snyder said at the time. "We'll try to help him all we can.''

Brown and Snyder seemed like a perfect match. Look what Snyder has done for the collegiate career of Arthur Brown, who spent two unfulfilled seasons at Miami and now is one of the top linebackers in the country.

If players are willing to work hard — harder than they have ever worked in their lives — the rewards of playing football at Kansas State have been proven over and over again.

But for Bryce Brown, the rewards are on hold as he works through a situation that has stalled his college football career.

What happens now?

Perhaps we'll find out after the Cotton Bowl, as Butler suggests. Perhaps it's not too late for Brown to find his way on the football field. Perhaps he has to find his way off the field first.

Check sports columnist Bob Lutz's blog at blogs.kansas.com/lutz. Reach him at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com.

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