by Malik Vincent
For New Pittsburgh Courier
Before Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown became one of Ben Roethlisberger’s prime targets, he came from humble beginnings.
Simply put, his road wasn’t easy.
|JUST OUT OF REACH—A pass sails just beyond the reach of Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and Titans defensive back Jason McCourty Oct. 9 at Heinz Field.
“I didn’t come from the greatest surroundings,” the 5-10, 185 pound Brown said. “There was a lot of poverty, drugs, and crime. It was essential for me to get out of it and I was determined to do so.”
Early this season, Brown has already eclipsed his totals of 17 catches for 167 yards in 2010.
He currently has 18 grabs for 246 yards—which is second best on the team behind Mike Wallace.
Brown, 23, is a native of the Liberty City section of northern Miami. According to the 2000 census, it is one of the largest concentrations of Black Americans in Southern Florida.
The area’s noted rise of crime came in the 1960’s and ‘70s due to the increasingly poverty-stricken Blacks who migrated there from other Miami neighborhoods.
Despite the conditions, a young Brown excelled athletically as a track and football star at Norland High School.
But he admitted that he wasn’t ready, at first, to move on to a four-year institution.
So he enrolled at North Carolina Tech, a prep school, where he ran for 451 yards and threw for 1,247 yards and 11 touchdowns as the starting quarterback.
“Going to prep school was probably one of the best things I could have done coming out of high school,” Brown said. “I just wasn’t ready, yet. I knew I needed to mature and get myself prepared for the hard work I was going to need to do on the next level.”
He had a record-setting career at Central Michigan as a receiver and on special teams before being selected in the sixth round in the 2010 draft by the Steelers.
He still ranks second in Mid-American Conference history with 305 receptions—which tops Central Michigan’s list.
Over his three-year collegiate career, he was named Special Teams Player of the Year during his final two seasons. In addition, Brown was a first-team All-MAC selection at receiver and punt returner after his record setting 2009 campaign in which he caught 110 passes for 1,198 yards and nine touchdowns.
Yet, in his second year with the Steelers, he’s getting his first opportunity to play every game. Though he’s shown flashes of the success he had in college, Brown has had to split time with fellow young talented wide-out Emmanuel Sanders behind starters Hines Ward and Mike Wallace.
In Brown’s first NFL game against the Tennessee Titans on Sept. 19 of last year, he returned the opening kickoff 89 yards for a score. He was the first rookie to do so since former receiver Antwaan Randle El did so in 2002.
Ironically, he and Sanders, with their emergence on the depth chart, caused El’s release from the team over the offseason.
Though he has yet to see the end zone as a receiver, he sealed the victory in last year’s AFC championship game against the New York Jets in front of a Heinz Field single-game record 66, 662 fans.
He made an acrobatic grab off his helmet and was able to stay in-bounds with little space along the sideline.
He’s always doing something to get better,” Roethlisberger said. “He always spends extra time at practice. He’s constantly watching film. I’ve noticed everything he’s done and I’ve, in turn, notice the vast improvements that he’s made on the field.”
Brown displays a rather colorful approach to what one may reference as ‘wild’ on-the-field celebrations. His are similar to fellow Liberty City native and New England Patriots receiver Chad Ochocinco—like the preseason mocking of teammate Hines Ward’s “Dancing with the Stars” stint over the summer, or hanging on the wall in the end zone in the same game.
They haven’t always gone over well with the coaching staff.
But receivers’ coach Scottie Montgomery said it’s a special part of him that “defines who he really is” and that “adds to his genuine personality.
“What you see on the field is what you get in real life,” Montgomery said. “I know Antonio is good person. Very indicative of where he comes from.”
He has a message for those who may be facing the same battles he did.
“Put God first in everything you do,” Brown said. “If you believe that you can do something, and just believe that (God will) bring you through it—he will. Never let anyone or anything tell you what you can’t do. And you will make it.”
(Malik Vincent can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)