COLLEGE PARK -- C.J. Brown has watched the video in which he is blasted from behind by a Florida State player before being rammed in the chest by another defender, twisting the Maryland quarterback’s body so that his face mask bounces on the turf.
“Pretty gruesome hit,” Brown said Tuesday, shortly after coach Randy Edsall announced that he will be back as the starter for Maryland (5-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) in its game at Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2 ACC) on Saturday.
“One of the trainers called me ‘scrambled eggs’ — ‘Hey Scrambled, you all right?’“
The case of Brown, who suffered a concussion and began experiencing throbbing headaches hours after the Oct. 5 game, illustrates why athletic conferences now exercise such caution before allowing players to return from head injuries.
Years ago, Brown, a fifth-year senior, might have returned to the game — or at least played in the next one against Virginia. His ribs were bruised and his lip bloody, but he otherwise felt normal.
“I felt fine. I was a little foggy, but I wasn’t completely out of it. My head didn’t hurt,” he said Tuesday in his first interviews since the play.
Research has shown that initial diagnoses after such hits can be deceiving. Concussion symptoms often aren’t evident immediately. “Symptoms are unique for each athlete,” the NCAA says on its website as part of an ongoing educational campaign. “Athletes may underreport their injuries.”
In 2010, the ACC began requiring officials on the field to sideline players who appear disoriented or display other worrisome signs. Brown remained on the field for several minutes after the second-quarter play. No flag was thrown, but the ACC said later that a roughing penalty would have been appropriate.
Brown’s head still felt OK when he rode the bus to the airport with the team after Maryland’s 63-0 loss. That’s when he watched the replay for the first time.
“Someone sent it to me via text message,” said Brown, who has had season-ending injuries in two previous years but says he hadn’t endured a concussion since high school. “I had a lot of messages saying, ‘Wow, huge cheap shot, I can’t believe they didn’t call a [penalty]. I personally didn’t know if it was one guy or two [that hit me].”
In fact, Brown — who had thrown an incomplete pass — was being held around the waist by Florida State linebacker Christian Jones before defensive lineman Jacobbi McDaniel arrived, jolting the quarterback with a blow to the chest.
“The biggest one that hurt was the ribs because I was exposed there,” Brown said. “Then, when I turned, I couldn’t stop my fall and it was just face mask on the ground. That one didn’t feel too good either.”
Brown’s mother, Kim, and his father, Clark, were watching the play from the stands. A team official summoned them and brought them to see their son after he was hurt. “When they do go down, you feel it to the bottom of your toes,” Brown’s mother said before the season.
The quarterback’s concussion symptoms didn’t manifest themselves until the evening after the game, and his headaches continued into the next morning.
The headaches disappeared the Monday after the game, and Brown began a battery of tests — cognitive, strength and conditioning — to determine if could play against the Cavaliers this past Saturday.
“They flash 15 to 20 words on a screen, then they come back and say, ‘Was this one of the words?’“ Brown said.
The results are analyzed against a baseline established when Brown first enrolled at the school.
“There's a protocol that any of our players have to go through,” Edsall said. “We always follow that protocol.”
Brown didn’t have a problem passing the tests, but he ran out of time completing all of the requirements before Saturday’s game. Sophomore Caleb Rowe played instead, and the Terps won, 27-26, bringing Maryland within one win of becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since the 2010 season.
“I was like, ‘Let me go [play]. So they had to kind of pump the brakes on me a little,” said Brown, who has completed 63.7 percent of his passes this season for 1,125 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception.
Brown participated in pregame warmups Saturday, which Edsall said was part of the process in getting him cleared to return this week. Brown returned to practice Sunday, and Edsall said he will be able to participate fully throughout this week.
“He’s good to go,” Edsall said. “He’s cleared and he’s the starter.”
In hindsight, Brown said he believes in the rules designed to safeguard players from further injury.
“This is your brain,” Brown said. “This is a very important part of your body. Only being 22 years old, I still have a long life ahead of me. I wasn’t going to mess around with that.”