Auburn’s Derrick Brown would have been a first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. On the field, there wasn’t much the 6-5, 318-pound defensive tackle had to prove.
Brown, however, had other responsibilities in mind — ones that were taught by his father James — who served four years in the U.S. Army and four more in the National Guard — and his mother Martha. Brown, who partnered with USAA ahead of the 2020 NFL Draft, shared some of those lessons with Sporting News.
“When you think of military, you think of structure, and that’s how my dad lives his life,” Brown told SN. “Day in and day out, he stuck with the same routine. He held us accountable, and he and my mom always wanted to know what was going on with school.
“That’s where it all started,” he said. “He coached me so hard in the classroom that it translated over to the field.”
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That continues in the present. Brown is staying with his parents and prepping for the NFL Draft in Sugar Hill, Ga., in the middle of a quarantine because of the outbreak of COVID-19. Brown still is being held to the same routine he grew up with. For a potential top-10 pick, that means finding creative ways to work out. For example, Brown bought buckets and filled them with sand to use for weight training.
“It’s not the most ideal thing to do, but you have to find a way to get it done,” Brown said. “The foundation is what I rely on. It may be tough times right now, but you have to do what you have to do, especially with my son. You might say you are more prepared for it because of that.”
Brown is making the best of an extraordinary situation, but his outlook took a different shape with the birth of his son Kai in 2019. Brown had 48 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss for Auburn that season, but it was secondary to the lessons he leaned on his father for off the field.
“When I became a father, that was the biggest thing I went through since being here on this Earth,” Brown said. “At the time I found out it was a scary thing; but having my dad in my corner and being able to reach out to him helped. Nobody can you teach how to be a man but the man that raised you. Those things helped me carry on in life and put what’s important first.”
Brown returned for his senior season and piled up 54 tackles, four sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, helping Auburn beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl — “the best way to go out at Jordan-Hare.”
All those memories are there, but Brown is most proud of the academic accomplishment.
“I got to walk away with my degree in hand,” Brown said. “That’s something that is going to be with me the rest of my life. It was about getting to be there with my son and walking away with my degree.”
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Brown will be home for Thursday’s NFL Draft, and it’s a moment he will enjoy with his family. All that structure and routine in a military family paid off.
“We didn’t get to go to Vegas, but you have to adjust on the fly,” he said. “That’s something we can’t control. Just sitting here and thinking about it, the whole ultimate goal was to be able to make it with my family. I’m still going to be able to do that, and that is what means most to me.”
Brown partnered with USAA, the NFL’s Official Salute to Service partner, to share his story about growing up in a military family and how that prepared him for success on the field. “That was cool that they would even look to me, let me be a part of this and let me tell my story,” Brown said. “The military is something special to me and family.”