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Nerves leave, catches arrive

Mike Brown of Citrus has been working on improving his hands.

By KEITH NIEBUHR
Published May 4, 2003

INVERNESS - When Mike Brown caught a pass last season, good things happened.

There was one problem.

He didn't catch the ball nearly enough.

Brown led the county in receptions. But by his own admission likely was first in drops, too.

"I was nervous most of the time," said Brown, a senior-to-be at Citrus. "I always thought I was going to mess up."

Brown had his chance to shine and knows it. Quarterback Casey Snyder often delivered pinpoint passes he couldn't handle. At times, a demoralized Brown hung his head on the sidelines. He never thought about quitting, but said, "It got really frustrating."

Coaches and teammates were critical and motivational. For every harsh word, there was an encouraging one.

"They've always been by my side," Brown said.

Brown has size (6 feet 1, 175 pounds) and athleticism. He's one of the team's fastest players and claimed the region championship Thursday in the high jump. But he never played football until last year, which explains a lot of his 2002 struggles.

"I talked him in to coming out last spring just to see if he'd like it," Hurricanes coach Larry Bishop said. "He played like a first-year player. He looked good at times, but at other times made first-year mistakes.

"He'd run his routes and be leery of where the safety and cornerbacks were instead of concentrating solely on the ball."

Twelve months after Brown first put on pads, he enters spring practice armed not only with a football body but a football mind. He has more knowledge of the game and more confidence. And he says he's catching the ball much better, largely because he plays pitch-and-catch often with Snyder.

"He has all the tools in the world," Bishop said. "We definitely think he (can play in college). But he has to be able to catch the balls he dropped last season. He has the speed and he has the athleticism. He just has to work on his hands. He's bigger, stronger and more confident. He hasn't even scratched the surface yet."

Because Brown never got into the flow last season, few know what he's capable of doing. But Bishop says has a clue because Brown has shown flashes of greatness at practice and the coach visualizes big plays in Brown's future.

"His yards after the catch are substantial," Bishop said.

When asked what his goal is for the upcoming season, Brown said, "To catch everything." He's aiming for a 50-reception season. "A couple of catches could get me going," Brown said. "I just need to keep practicing."

- Keith Niebuhr can be reached online at niebuhr@sptimes.com or by phone at 860-7337.

[Last modified May 4, 2003, 01:46:30]

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