By Jeff Barker, The Baltimore Sun
7:08 PM EST, February 26, 2014
COLLEGE PARK -- It was August 2012 and Wes Brown was meeting the media for the first time as a Maryland football player. Athletic department staff taped a name tag to the freshman's chair for the benefit of reporters.
Brown, a big tailback with impressive quickness, did not seem daunted by his anonymity or lack of experience. He expected to play quickly and, sure enough, almost immediately became one of the team's most valued runners.
A year and a half later, as the Terps open practices Saturday, Brown is preparing to again address the media. But this time, his story won't be about raw promise but about his hope for redemption.
Brown was suspended for the entire 2013 season after a confrontation with police. He joins wide receiver Marcus Leak — a formidable deep threat who left school for personal reasons last year — in returning to a team on which they once showed tantalizing promise.
Usually, spring practices are about starting fresh. This one — at least for Brown, Leak and several key players returning from serious injuries — is about starting over. Maryland declined media requests to interview Brown and Leak, but says they will be made available after spring practices begin.
Once prominent contributors, Brown, who is from Baltimore, and Leak, from Charlotte, N.C., will begin at or near the bottom of the depth chart.
But coaches and teammates have seen how valuable the two players can be.
Brown, who has lost 10 pounds to drop to 200, dazzled and perplexed coaches in his freshman season. In his second game, a victory over Temple, he carried seven times for 50 yards, a 7.1 yard average, but fumbled twice. He ended an injury-shortened season with 399 yards and a 4.2 average.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Leak averaged 17.1 yards per catch in his sophomore season of 2012 before being sidelined with a broken toe. He demonstrated an ability to snatch deep passes away from defenders in traffic.
Although Leak was academically eligible, he withdrew last May to return to his family in North Carolina. He had always planned to return. The Terps finished last season 7-6.
"Both those guys two years ago were very productive for us," offensive coordinator Mike Locksley said Wednesday. "I know Marcus caught a bunch of balls and made some plays prior to going out. Do I see a different Wes Brown and a different Marcus Leak? No doubt. They understand what it's like to have something you enjoy taken away from you. So maybe [there is] a little more hunger, a little more focus, a little more maturity."
If Brown has learned anything since enrolling at Maryland, it's that life doesn't always go as planned.
A coveted recruit, Brown was a teammate at Good Counsel of receiver-returner Stefon Diggs, Maryland's most dynamic offensive player.
Last July, police questioned Brown in College Park because his car had been linked to a nonfatal shooting in Baltimore, according to police documents. Brown resisted accompanying the detectives to headquarters and said he wanted to have at least one parent with him during questioning, the documents said.
Police moved to take Brown into custody. The player was accused of shoving a Baltimore police detective with two hands before taking off on foot. But charges stemming from the police encounter were dropped by the Prince George's County state's attorney's office, and his attorney says Brown has no criminal culpability in the Baltimore investigation.
Brown was told that if he reached certain benchmarks, some related to community service, he would be eligible to return to school after the fall semester.
"He did a lot of speaking to young kids, talking about the mistakes he had made, trying to prevent them from making the same mistakes," said running backs coach Andre Powell.
"I think he was able to touch a lot of kids," Powell said. "He told me one occasion he was talking to a group of kids and he saw one little kid that was displaying bad body language maybe. And he said, 'When I looked at that kid, that was me.' So he was able to call that kid out and talk to him and say, 'Hey, man, you look like what I used to look like, you're heading down a dangerous path.'"
Maryland's spring practices end with the red-white game on the night of April 11. Coaches said priorities will include red-zone defense and minimizing offensive turnovers.
"Our focus is going to be better tackling and then playing better red-zone defense. We're going to get better in other areas, but those are two emphases," defensive coordinator Brian Stewart said.
Coaches say Brown is eager for practices to begin.
When he learned in January that he was nearly cleared to return, Brown tweeted: "Through the lords blessings! Thank you all who supported me on my journey!" The tweet included a photo montage featuring Brown's No. 4 jersey and the words "He's B[a]ck!"
Said Powell: "He displayed some emotion to me on a couple occasions. He was just relieved that he was just finally back."
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