IWA standout continues to shine in Div. I football

Published 10:30 am Friday, November 21, 2014

By Paul McFarlane

Special to The Tidewater News

HARRISONBURG—Football games at Isle of Wight Academy can be a fun experience. How 1,000 people can get behind the school to the football field in an orderly fashion is a remarkable feat.

Fans have to park their cars or trucks either on the front of the school grounds or on county property across the street.

After making a catch, James Madison University and Windsor native Daniel Brown moves to avoid a tackle in a game against the College of William & Mary Tribe. Courtesy JMU Athletics.

After making a catch, James Madison University and Windsor native Daniel Brown moves to avoid a tackle in a game against the College of William & Mary Tribe. Courtesy JMU Athletics.

Daniel Brown played in that environment. But when he played his first college game four years ago, that environment was a little different. Instead of the 1,000 or so fans he was accustomed to, Brown was playing in front of an announced crowd of 57,000 at the University of North Carolina. Late in the first half on that steamy early September afternoon, he ran a post pattern and quarterback Justin Thorpe connected on a 41-yard pass for a touchdown. True, it only enabled the James Madison University team to cut the lead to 21-7 in a game that would eventually be a blowout, but it was a start for the Windsor teenager.

“I was giddy,” Brown said this week, recalling the touchdown catch.

His father up in the stands felt similar emotions.

“People behind us were telling us to sit down,” after the touchdown catch, Mike Brown said this week. Mike did no such thing. He is too proud of a dad.

Daniel Brown, a computer information service major, has one remaining regular season game on Saturday against Elon University, a small school situated in central North Carolina making its initial start in the Colonial Athletic Association, one of the top conferences in the lower levels of Division I college football. With a win against Elon, which has 1 win in 11 games this season, JMU will probably be invited to the playoff field, a location that hasn’t been reached since 2011.

And that touchdown in Chapel Hill has a certain irony: The opposing coach was Everett Withers, who was named interim coach one week before that game in early September. Withers is now the coach at JMU.

And Brown has been a part of that JMU success this season, as the Dukes have won 8 times in 11 games this year. He was the team’s leading receiver last season as well, and leads this season with 539 receiving yards after Saturday’s 55-20 win against the University of Richmond, a game that was broadcasted to a nationally on NBCSports. He caught a touchdown pass Saturday. Last season, Brown led the run-oriented team with 665 receiving yards, roughly 60 yards more than the next receiver.It has been an experience that has worked well for Daniel Brown. A three-star athlete at Isle of Wight Academy (football, basketball, baseball), he’s in his fifth year at Harrisonburg, having redshirted his first year as a walk-on.

Still, he played football, which was not necessarily a given. He broke his ankle in a game against Kenston Forest in his sophomore season in high school, and that interrupted what might have been four straight MVP seasons on the school’s basketball team. He was about 6-foot-3, maybe 190 pounds as a high school senior. He’s grown to be 6-foot-5, about 220, according to his roster listing on the university’s website. In addition to his football success years back, he was all-conference at IWA in basketball and baseball. He still likes to play basketball on campus, playing intramural ball, but his time is limited between practice and classes.

“Yeah,” his father said, “he hasn’t got a whole lot of time.”

Still, said Mike, who works in Suffolk but lives about a quarter of a mile from Isle of Wight Academy, he’s been to a bunch of his son’s college football games over the years, including that very hot day at Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill.

“We’ve been from Ohio to New York,” he said without trying to mask his enthusiasm. “My wife and I love football.”

Time is so short on his son’s schedule, that Mike Brown said they might get together for a Sunday breakfast after game day.

There are other issues. Daniel Brown was a walk-on football player, which meant his dad paid the tuition, room and board. Once he proved his ability, he was placed on scholarship.

“He’s saved me about $22,000,” Mike added.


Daniel Brown moves to leap over a player back in high school at Isle of Wight Academy, as he makes a push for the goal line.

Daniel Brown moves to leap over a player back in high school at Isle of Wight Academy, as he makes a push for the goal line.

Both Daniel and Mike Brown joke about the younger’s status as being No. 2 at the high school.

Daniel sat behind Rusty Brake on the depth chart, when the latter was leading the team to state titles.

“Isn’t that a great name: Rusty Brake?,” said IWA longtime head football coach and athletic director Dale Chapman. He made that comment in a rare moment when he dropped his proud face.

Daniel was salutatorian (Being No. 2) in his graduating class and made a concession/joke about his being No. 2 in school in a graduation speech. He seemed to take that in stride, seemed to take pride in his status as No. 2.

He’s also a hard worker. He busted up a knee in college, as the phrase goes, “Blew out his knee,” his father said. Ligament damage, cartilage damage. Serious damage. Serious surgery. Mike still speaks proudly of his boy: “He rehabbed [his knee] like there was no tomorrow.”

His dad should know about playing football. He also played at Isle of Wight.

“He has huge hands,” the son says of his father, as a matter of pride.

There is another sense of pride from a dad to his son. Mike is cognizant of what his son is doing with this life thanks in part to support from IWA.

“For a small, private school, they do a really good job,” he said.

Chapman, who has been a coach for more than 20 years, said he imagines that it’s tough being a student from a small private high school trying to play for a national championship team in college.

“He’s put added pressure on himself — trying to measure up,” Chapman said.

Also, Chapman said, “We’re a small school, and we don’t put many kids at the Division I level.”

Chapman tried to put perspective on the character that is Daniel’s. There was a game, Chapman said, during Daniel’s freshman year, when Daniel was inserted as quarterback in another blowout win for Isle of Wight. Brown’s time being a mop-up guy.

“He came over to me,” Chapman said, “and maybe he said, ‘Coach, my left knee is shaking so badly, I can’t control it.’”

Then, after thinking about it for a minute or more, Coach Chapman said proudly, “He’s one of the best kids we’ve ever had here.”