COLLEGE PARK — For Maryland running back Wes Brown, part of the process of returning to school after he was arrested following a confrontation with police last summer involved speaking to youth groups about not making the same mistakes he had.
That was the "best" part of the process, he said after practice Saturday at Byrd Stadium, but more of a reality check came when Brown returned to his former high school, Good Counsel. For four hours a day, to fully understand what he had lost, he did custodial work.
"I had to discipline myself by getting a job I knew I wouldn't want to have for the rest of my life, and that was working as a custodian, changing trash bags," Brown said. "No disrespect, but it was a good job because it helped me humble myself and appreciate the little things, like those people who do those jobs for us."
After cleaning up following Good Counsel football games, Brown said students and other fans often would come up to the custodian they thought they recognized.
"They would say, 'Oh, you're Wes Brown,' and I would say, 'I ain't nobody special, so don't say it like that. I'm just as you are,' " Brown recalled.
Along with former high school teammate Stefon Diggs, Brown was considered one of the biggest coups of Randy Edsall's first full recruiting class, in 2012. While he showed flashes as a freshman — including a 121-yard, one-touchdown game on 25 carries against North Carolina State — Brown battled injuries.
After missing the last three games of the 2012 season with an ankle injury, Brown was supposed to compete with Brandon Ross and Albert Reid for the No. 1 running back spot. But a month before camp opened, Brown was arrested near campus and accused of taking a swing at and then shoving an officer who was trying to question him about a nonfatal shooting at a Baltimore nightclub.
Brown, whose vehicle was linked to the incident, was never charged in connection with the shooting. In August, Brown was suspended by the university and spent the fall semester taking classes at a local community college.
"Reality hit me so quick when everything got taken away," he said Saturday. "All my life, this is what I worked for. When it was taken away, I was like, 'What do I do?' You get focus; that's what I did. … You make mistakes and at the same time you learn from those mistakes and become a better person."
Edsall said Brown returned to campus earlier this year "a different person" than he was as a freshman.
"The time away made him grow as young man," Edsall said. "You can see that growth and maturation in him. Now it's just a matter of him coming out here and continuing to keep working and get better. The thing is, I'm more concerned with Wes as a person and human being.
"I think he's doing well from that standpoint. He took a situation that he put himself into and learned from. What's impressive is that he's being a leader and he's helping other guys and letting them understand how much of a privilege being here as a student-athlete is."
Brown said he stayed in touch with his teammates through telephone calls and social media, and also talked with coaches and administrators, including Edsall and athletic director Kevin Anderson, who "kept in my head and made sure I was on the right path and keeping my nose clean."
Asked how it felt to be back on the practice field, Brown said: "It feels good. It feels like I'm back in my element. … I'm glad I'm back to where I'm supposed to be, because now I have a focus.
He added: "You make mistakes and you learn from them at the same time. I don't regret anything, just because I became a better person and a better man."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun