Zach Brown won state titles in wrestling and outdoor track and in football rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior at Wilde Lake High School. He was named the offensive football Player of the Year for Howard County in 2007.
It was a remarkable feat for one athlete across three different sports, and it foreshadowed his greatness in the years to come.
Now, almost five years later, after lots of hard work and a successful collegiate career at Hargrave Military Academy prep school and then the University of North Carolina, that is exactly the future that Brown is facing.
"He's the most physically gifted player that I ever coached," said former Wilde Lake football coach Doug DuVall, echoing a sentiment that was often heard five years ago. "He can just do it all, and as talented as he is physically, he's got a heart of gold."
It's that total package that has football analysts projecting Brown as a first-round selection in the NFL draft, April 26-28 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
A quick parsing of the myriad draft projections on the internet yields Brown's name anywhere from around No. 10 to the low 20s.
"It's kind of like a dream. I pictured it and I dreamed about playing in the NFL, but now it's actually about to happen," Brown said.
But he isn't content to just sit back and wait to hear his named called on draft day.
The NFL Scouting Combine is scheduled for Feb. 22-28 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and an athlete's performance there can drastically affect their value in the eyes of NFL teams.
"I had to work hard to get to where I'm at. After high school, I was young and I didn't know what was going on," said Brown, who didn't need to train much to thrive while at Wilde Lake. "Now I'm just training twice a day and getting my body ready for the combine."
DuVall jokes that when Brown was at Wilde Lake, the weight room served more as a place to take a nap and grab a bite to eat, but when he moved onto the Division I level he rose to the occasion.
"He knows what he has to do before the combine," said DuVall, who was Brown's guest for a game at UNC this season. "He's lived in the weight room at North Carolina, he's been tearing it up."
But just as it was in high school, blazing speed is still one of Brown's greatest assets.
He even competed for the UNC indoor track team in 2010, setting the school record for the 60-meter dash.
He is also double majoring in sociology and African American studies, so organizational skills are clearly a strong point for him.
"It wasn't hard" competing in two Division I sports and keeping up with his studies, Brown said. "You've just got to manage your time."
While Brown doesn't expect to earn his degree by this spring, he has only a handful of credits left toward graduation and says that is a priority.
But while he's still in his athletic prime, playing in the NFL is priority No. 1.
"I don't have a preference (to where I play)," he said. "Any team can pick me."
At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Brown is being looked at by most NFL scouts primarily as a weakside linebacker. In addition to his size and speed, his hands are an added bonus.
This season, he made three interceptions while leading the Tar Heels' defense with 105 total tackles, including 13.5 for loss, 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. The career season followed up a junior year when he made 72 tackles and three interceptions for 113 yards despite starting in only five games.
"I was surprised at how my senior year ended so well," said Brown, who was invited to play in the prestigious Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., was selected as a team MVP and named first team All-ACC among other postseason honors.
Ironically, Brown's fondest high school memories were not on the football field.
"When I won states, in track and in wrestling, those were good memories," he said.
But Brown's greatest moments of glory may still be ahead of him.
"People like Zach because he smiles a lot ... there's a lot of good in Zach Brown," DuVall said. "He's going to be fun to watch."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun