The instruction to Jeff Braun was simple: Go where your heart chooses. The speaker, former West Virginia football coach Bill Stewart, was letting the freshman from Winters Mill choose his path. Play defense or switch to the offensive line.
Because Braun had been on defense since high school, the decision would not be easy. But after thinking it over, acknowledging the rumors that the move was inevitable, Braun decide to show up to the next offensive line meeting. If he were going to switch, it would be his choice. Or so he thought.
"I remember walking into the meeting room and there was a playbook with my name already on it," Braun said. "That stung a little, but in a funny way."
Fast-forward to 2012. Braun, a senior from Westminster is anchoring right guard on one of the most feared offenses in college football. The No. 8 Mountaineers' game Saturday against Maryland will offer a perspective of sorts for No. 57, an NFL prospect, of just how far he has come and where he is headed.
Football served as an outlet to Braun as a child, one for the frustration over losing his father, Jeff Braun Sr., to a heart attack. When knocking over kids on the field could not fill the void for the 11-year-old, his family provided the love, especially from his aunts Courtney Vaughn and Patty Daley.
"I don't know where I would be without them," Braun said.
Through the loss Braun found an outlook that made him appreciate what he had and to do everything with a passion.
"Very few young men take to the training and discipline that is required to be successful," said Braun's high school coach Ken Johnson. "Jeff fell into that category."
Braun thrived at Winters Mill, starting three years and succeeding at all three positions on the offensive line. But he still loved playing defense.
"I told him, 'Jeff I know you want to play [defense], but your best opportunity is going to be on the offensive line, especially at guard," Johnson said.
But that didn't seem like the case. The two leaders in his recruitment, West Virginia and the Terps, both wanted him to play defense. Braun committed during his junior year after a Mountaineers camp, crediting the program's success at the time and their early involvement with him. Saturday will be yet another competition between the two schools.
"I'm definitely excited for it," Braun said of Saturday's game. "I'm just going to be having fun with it."
He will also get a chance to reconnect with what Johnson calls the "fraternity," a collection of players from the area who know one another before leaving for college programs.
After making his choice, the 6-foot-5 Braun threw himself into playing offense, using the versatility he gained back home in Westminster. He served as a reserve guard and center as a redshirt freshman before earning the starting right tackle spot as a sophomore, leading the team with 49 knockdowns. Injuries on the line his junior year had Braun starting at left guard, but he has since returned to his natural position on the right side.
"He's a kid who knows every position," Mountaineers offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said. "He can put us in the right direction out there."
Once Braun plays his final snap for West Virginia, his attention will turn toward Sundays. Bedenbaugh, who has experience putting linemen in the NFL, has no doubt that Braun will get a shot but insists his chances comes down to "fit" with a team. While the NFL is hardly a sure thing, Braun is already looking past football. Well, sort of.
"Hopefully when it's all said and done and I put my pads away, my title will become coach," Braun said.
He's already received a head start helping one guard back in Maryland: his younger brother Brandon, who wears his former number, No. 74.
"It kills me every year that I haven't been able to see one of his high school snaps," Braun said. "But he gives me access to his game film, and I'll sit down and watch it, giving him pointers. … I love him to death."
Sounds like a coach already.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun