Making his case: Bison senior Brown bidding to be a starting linebacker

FARGO, (FNS) — It’s unlikely that North Dakota State will ever take Jaxon Brown off of the kickoff coverage team. That would be like telling Carson Wentz he couldn’t play quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Special teams is where the Bison senior has carved his niche over the past couple of seasons and Brown expects that to continue when 2019 gets going Aug. 31 against Butler at Target Field in Minneapolis. But when the NDSU defense takes the field for the first time, Brown is hoping he doesn’t stay on the sideline.

He wants to be part of the starting linebacker trio.

It appears sophomore Jackson Hankey will be the guy in the middle with junior Jabril Cox a staple at one outside linebacker position. Whether it’s Brown, junior Aaron Mercadel, redshirt freshman Jasir Cox or another up-and-comer who wins a position remains to be seen. Mercadel was listed as the starter at the other outside linebacker spot at Bison media day earlier this week.

Whatever the case, Brown won’t let it go without a fight.

“I’ve always liked competing,” Brown said. “I’m a competitive guy whether that’s on special teams or getting in with the 1s and getting a starting spot. We have a good little system going and a friendly competition going in our room and well all support each other and love one another. I’m out here doing it every day and it’s a blast.”

NDSU lost senior linebackers Levi Jordheim and Dan Marlette from last year’s NCAA Division I FCS national title team, the program’s seventh in the past eight years. The Bison paved that path with several standout position groups — linebackers certainly included.

For instance, Preston Evans, Chad Willson and Travis Beck were the starters in the first trip to Frisco, Texas, in 2011 against Sam Houston State. Those three were the three leading tacklers in the title game.

The baton was passed over the years to the likes of Grant Olson, Carlton Littlejohn, Esley Thorton and Nick DeLuca. With Jabril Cox as the only veteran returner, the Bison linebacking corps is in the midst of another switchover.

The 6-foot-2, 212-pound Brown wasn’t a linebacker until moving from safety the day before fall practice began last year.

“So I was swimming for a little bit,” Brown said.

Brown played in all 15 games finishing with 28 tackles. But, again, most of the notable stops were on the kickoff team.

“I’ve shown I can make plays and I’ve shown I’m able to do these things ‘backers are able to do,” Brown said. “But I have to be more consistent with it. Last year I didn’t have the consistency to get out on the field as much, but I’m hoping through last spring and this fall camp that I can develop that consistency and get out on the field and help out as much as I can on defense.”

Now a fifth-year senior from Eau Claire, Wis., having a grasp of the complex Tampa 2 defense is no longer an issue. It helped that he’s seen the looks from the defensive backfield and the secondary.

“It expanded my knowledge of the defense,” Brown said. “This is my fifth fall camp and I know the schemes pretty well.”

That said, if the Bison begin the season on defense first, look for Brown to get his teammates juiced on the kickoff coverage team against Butler.

“I love doing it, I love flying down there and being a crazy man,” Brown said.