Bison linebacker Brown goes all-out on special teams
FARGO — Jaxon Brown has heard the stories about his father’s football career at the University of Minnesota. Some family members and friends of Guy Brown tell Jaxon of a player who was a warrior on kickoff coverage for the Gophers.
Which probably explains why Jaxon is perfecting that role with North Dakota State. The junior from Eau Claire, Wis., is usually the first tackler to the ball on kickoff coverage and it’s something he doesn’t take lightly. It begs the question: Who was/is better, Guy Brown or Jaxon Brown?
“Man, he was a great one,” Jaxon said. “It’s fun to go back and talk to some people about it. I definitely have the confidence in myself that I can take him right now.”
Brown is taking that confidence on the road Saturday when the Bison play at the University of South Dakota. Like any other week, he’ll be studying the University of South Dakota special teams like a quarterback studies an opposing defense. He looks at film of past Bison players like Chris Board and Bryan Shepherd to further his craft. Board parlayed special teams excellence to making the Baltimore Ravens roster this season.
It starts from the moment he walks on the field before kickoff. If it’s in the Fargodome, where the pregame entrance with the lights off is a natural motivator, Brown said he almost has to calm himself down before kickoff.
“I know we love to defer the option (of receiving the ball) to the second half a lot, so the fact we kick off most games is what I love the most,” he said. “Just coming out of the tunnel and the crowd’s energy is flowing through you and knowing you have the first play of the game, that I can make an impact from that first snap makes a big difference.”
Here’s how Bison coaches know he’s making an impact: Brown is the seventh-leading tackler on the team despite playing a backup role with the defense. He has 18 tackles. Brown has been so sharp at kickoff and punt coverages through seven games that the Bison have designed different kickoffs that suit his coverage strength.
Last week, in the 28-14 win over Illinois State, NDSU did something subtly different on the kickoff that most people probably didn’t notice. Instead of placing the ball on one hash and kicking it down the same hash mark direction, kicker Cam Pedersen booted it to the opposite hash mark near the goal line.
“Just to try and mess with the timing of the kick return team,” said Bison head coach Chris Klieman.
Klieman said the NDSU coaches have placed Brown in different spots on the coverage team to utilize his strengths. Brown says there’s nothing better than pumping up his teammates, and the NDSU crowd for that matter, with a big play on a kick return. It’s his mentality, something he learned from Board.
“Absolutely,” Brown said. “The mentality of going down there and being a kamikaze and doing whatever I can to get the crowd on their feet.”
The all-out mentality goes against his personality off the field. He wears hipster glasses and talks with a polite, somewhat quiet voice. But on the field? He makes the switch. It’s ironic that his mother, Jeanne Brown, is a concussion specialist at a clinic in Eau Claire.
“She’s always asking me questions after a game,” Jaxon said. “There are definitely some techniques to it, but at the same time, I’m not thinking about that when you’re running down the field.”
Klieman said it’s possible Brown will see more of the field against the Coyotes. With USD’s spread offense, his mobility at linebacker may be needed in pass coverage. Brown started his Bison career at strong safety, was moved to free safety before switching positions again last spring to linebacker.
“I understand the defenses in and out from a lot of different perspectives,” Brown said, “so when I get out there, I’ll be ready to go.”