To his teammates, Arthur Brown has always been known as The Judge.
The senior linebacker from Wichita picked up the nickname when he first arrived at Kansas State two years ago, fresh off a transfer from Miami. His teammates noticed his intense stare, one eye open much wider than the other, and the way he took charge of the defense with few words.
He commanded respect, much like a judge entering a courtroom.
Brown flourished under that moniker last season. He led K-State with 101 tackles, was named Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year and could have turned pro.
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But he came back for one final season, hoping to distance himself from the player he used to be. Brown thinks he owes it to his teammates to find a new identity.
“One of the main reasons I came back to play this year, to really embrace this opportunity, was to grow and develop as a leader under Coach Snyder,” Brown said. “The guys on the team have really helped that development … I’m a bit more talkative. They have opened me up a bit and cracked my shell. They have really gotten me to express more of my personality.”
That’s a scary thought. Brown’s shyness is the only thing that has ever prevented him from being a complete player.
Communication is important for any middle linebacker. Brown has finally realized this. He is the backbone of K-State’s defense, and the player everyone else looks to. Not only does he have to be fast enough to chase down running backs and cover tight ends, and be strong enough to make tackles all over the field, he has to be a vocal leader.
That’s something Brown has never done. He is quiet by nature. His hobby is cooking and his favorite channel is HGTV. He doesn’t get out much or brag about his game. He’s never had to. For years, he was so much bigger and faster than everyone else, he could make a defense better simply by taking the field.
Such was the case last year, when he instantly improved K-State’s defense, chasing down Robert Griffin III to secure a win over Baylor, and leaping over a blocker to keep things interesting against Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. But he made those plays on his own.
“We all have a role to play and we all have to function in that role to produce the desired result,” Brown said. “We want to be a functional defense. I really want to focus on playing my role and not stepping outside of it and pursuing the other team. That’s where I want to make the most improvement.”
Former defensive coordinator Chris Cosh would be happy to hear that. After one season with Brown, he made it clear Brown was one of the most talented defenders he had ever coached. To be the best, though, Cosh told Brown he needed to be more vocal.
Brown received that message loud and clear during the offseason.
“He cares,’’ Wildcat coach Bill Snyder said. “I don’t care if you’re 18 or 58, you don’t do things that you’re uncomfortable with unless you really care. And he really cares. That makes a monumental difference. His teammates got him through it, too, because they received him really well.’’
He now talks so much in the locker room and during practices that fellow linebacker Tre Walker can hardly believe the stories people used to tell about Brown.
He used to be shy. He used to lack confidence. He used to be quiet. Today, he’s none of those things.
“Arthur talks a lot,” Walker said. “He laughs a lot … He has really opened up.”
It’s a drastic change.
“He didn’t used to say very much. Actually, he didn’t speak at all,” Walker said. “He always seemed to be very quiet and off to himself … It’s kind of weird to see a person who doesn’t talk a lot start opening up and talking to you and all that stuff. You’re like, ‘OK, what’s going on here?’”
There is one reason Brown acts this way. K-State forced him to change.
Snyder rarely recruits high-profile prospects and the ones he has signed haven’t always lived up to their potential. It takes a special type of person — usually humble and willing to accept coaching — to play within his system.
That’s not the type of player Brown was when he signed with Miami out of Wichita East. He made that decision for all the wrong reasons. He wanted to continue playing the way he did in high school for a major-college program without making any significant changes.
Looking back, he understands why he made 17 tackles and rarely played with the Hurricanes. It wasn’t until he transferred closer to home that he realized what was most important to him – family, friends and teammates.
“Those years helped mold me into a shape where I could make the most out of my time at Kansas State,” Brown said. “I loved my family, but coming out of high school I didn’t really know the value of family and what it means to stay connected to your life’s support. Those two years away helped me develop an even stronger appreciation for my family.”