Long road to recovery hasn't been easy for Terps' C.J. Brown

In the most trying moments of C.J. Brown's long recovery, there was no noise — no whistles, no coaches' shouts, no slamming of pads against training sleds.

There was only the Maryland quarterback alone in his room, contemplating the fresh, three-and-a-half-inch scar on his right knee. And there was the fervent hope that — as he had before — he would manage to push through a serious injury and rejoin his teammates on Saturday afternoons in a new season that then seemed far away.

Brown, who will top the quarterback depth chart when Maryland opens training camp Aug. 5, tore an anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee making a cut during a non-contact drill in August 2012 inside Byrd Stadium. He remembers just where it happened on the new synthetic turf. "Thirty-yard line going toward Gossett [Football Team House]. Just a dagger in the heart," he said.

Brown knew a bevy of physical challenges laid ahead — surgery followed by a seemingly endless stream of leg lifts, squats and resistance work.

But the most arduous element of the rehabilitation — the one players don't always anticipate — was the isolation.

Asked recently about the toughest moments during his months-long recovery, Brown immediately recalled the loneliness of the weeks immediately following the injury.

"The lonely times are when I was laying in my bed by myself, and I always had to rely on somebody else," said Brown, a fifth-year player who lives in an off-campus house. "You've got to call someone — 'Hey, can you fill my ice bucket up?' — and you've got to swallow your man pride."

He said he was grateful for the well-wishing messages he received from fans and alumni — including ESPN broadcaster Scott Van Pelt — during that time.

It was a year in which two other Terps quarterbacks, plus senior linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, also endured ACL injuries.

On Oct. 20, quarterback Perry Hills remained down after being blocked in the back at Byrd Stadium against North Carolina State. His eyes closed in pain as he was carefully lifted onto a cart.

A week later, his replacement, fellow freshman Caleb Rowe, also suffered a torn ACL trying to scramble out of bounds at Boston College. He remained in the game — walking gingerly to the media room afterward — because the extent of the injury was not immediately known.

He and Hills faced the same sort of taxing, extended recovery periods as Brown.

"I believe the injury has made him a better man," said Rowe's mother, Janice. "He's learned to deal with his therapy and all the hard work to get back to 100 percent."

Like many Terps, Brown enjoys football's social nature. He had been voted a team captain before the 2012 season, a role that was not taken away following the injury. But he felt sometimes like an observer during his recovery.

"It's just tough to watch," he said. "There's no other way to put it."

When healthy, Brown's athleticism is hard to miss. The 6-3, 210-pound player has topped 100 rushing yards three times. He's been timed at 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash — which would be fast even for a receiver — and says he can do a 360-degree dunk on the basketball court. A career 49 percent passer, Brown has been working on his accuracy.

Brown's brother, Jordan — who possesses the same sort of clean-cut look as C.J. — is an entering wide receiver/defensive back at James Madison and can run a 4.5 40. Their younger sister, Kaitlyn, plays basketball and volleyball at Seneca Valley High School near Pittsburgh. Their father, Clark, was a Michigan State quarterback. It's a strikingly athletic family.

But in the days folowing the injury, C.J. was reduced to limping up and down the sideline wearing shorts, a heavy knee brace and a red T-shirt with an ironic message in white lettering on the back: "All in. All Games. All season."

The injuries have tested all three quarterbacks' patience and resolve. A fourth quarterback, Devin Burns, suffered a foot injury and has since left the school. Linebacker Shawn Petty ended last season as Maryland's quarterback.

Coach Randy Edsall told his players after the final game — a loss at North Carolina — that no team had ever endured quite what the Terps did. Maryland dropped its last six games to finish 4-8.

"We were just falling like flies," Brown said. On message boards and sports talk radio, fans wondered why so many injuries of the same type seem to be occurring in such a short period of time. Edsall said there was no common theme to the injuries. Lt. Col. Steven Svoboda, an orthopedic surgeon, said the injuries just seemed like "bad luck."

Brown had experienced such misfortune before. In 2010, he broke his collarbone on his first series of plays against Morgan State. The NCAA granted him a medical hardship after last season allowing him to return for another year after 2013.

All three Terps quarterbacks are now healthy. Brown participated in 7-on-7 passing drills during the spring. "He's got that confidence back and you can see that he's been studying and working and he does things that you want out of a quarterback," Edsall said.

The three quarterbacks are expected to be joined in camp by transfers Ricardo Young and Dustin Dailey, and freshman Shane Cockerille (Gilman).

Brown will be among the players representing Maryland at the Atlantic Coast Conference preseason media availability Sunday and Monday in North Carolina.

Brown said he's not worried about injuries as he prepares for the school's final season before joining the Big Ten.

But he and his teammates can't help but be a bit superstitious.

Brown said offensive coordinator Mike Locksley made a habit last season of telling backups that they were "only one play away" from taking the field if the starter got hurt.

After watching four quarterback starters fall victim to injuries, Brown joked that Locksey simply "isn't allowed" to say that anymore.



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