LEBANON — The college football recruiting spotlight has been on Keith Brown for a few years now.
But he doesn’t shy away from it, instead doing his best to ignore all the distractions and everything going on in a teenager’s life to focus solely on football when he takes the field.
The Lebanon High junior went to Twitter on Monday to display some disappointment in his own on-field performance through the first two games of the season. As a highly ranked player nationally, he knew his play wasn’t living up to the stars on his recruiting profile.
In that tweet, he also said he talked with his coach and that “everything is going to change” starting with this Friday’s home game in a showdown with Silverton.
“When I heard about it, it was a proud moment as a coach,” Lebanon’s Ty Tomlin said. “That’s maturity, right? To recognize I haven’t done something the way I want to and own up to what I’ve chosen to do.”
Brown and Tomlin sat down to watch game film Sunday morning, two days after the Warriors got past Dallas 28-20 to go 2-0 on the season.
When they talk about football, Tomlin often asks his standout player what he wants. The answer from Brown is always that he desires to be an elite player and compete in major college football.
Tomlin, whose opinion Brown respects for his honesty, gave a harsh answer in return.
“You’re showing me that’s not what you want,” Brown recalls of the response.
“I really believed it was my position as coach to call him out on that and say, ‘you’re not where you need to be. You need to pick it up,’” Tomlin said Wednesday, as his team prepared for the Foxes. “’Not because of you, you’re to get the things you want because of how physical you are. It’s your teammates that are busting their butt, these other kids that don’t have the talent but are playing twice as hard and (you’re) not doing things a certain way.’ He took that to heart.”
That set the wheels in motion for Brown to reevaluate where his mind was at and have a different approach going forward.
Brown, at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds and a two-time wrestling state runner-up, was named the fifth-best inside high school linebacker in the country by a major recruiting outlet in April and then dubbed the top middle linebacker by another in August.
“He’s someone that puts expectations for himself on the field every Friday night and knows how he needs to play,” said Lebanon junior receiver Dane Sipos, a good friend of Brown. “And if he’s not playing up to that, he’s going to call himself out.”
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In the rush of a game, Brown said you don’t realize what you’re not doing to help your team.
But when it was pointed out by Tomlin as they watched film together, it became clear that something had to change. Facing Corvallis and Dallas, Brown wasn’t making the plays he should and living up to the standard he set for himself to be considered one of the top defenders in the country.
“If the ball came to my side I’d make a play, but I wasn’t making the extra-effort plays,” he said. “Those are the qualities that number-one players have. Coming into Silverton this week, I’m feeling a lot more juice and I’m ready to play.”
Looking at the season results so far, the Warriors might need that to get past Silverton. The Foxes have rolled through their first two games, beating Central 50-0 and South Albany 46-7.
Beyond the dominant scores, Lebanon knows to expect a battle after having their last three meetings with Silverton decided by one point. The Foxes have won the last two, providing the Warriors plenty of motivation.
Silverton is ranked fourth and Lebanon fifth in this week’s OSAA 5A coaches poll.
Tomlin said he believes by a team’s third game you understand what you have and whether that team will continue to grow and improve into a successful one.
“Silverton is a great team, one of the best in the league,” Sipos said. “By the end of this week we’ll definitely know how we stand in our league, for sure.”
Tomlin said both opponents his team has played so far are better than last year, but also that his team has made “a lot of mistakes.”
“I think we haven’t been the way we’ve wanted to be and the standard that we’ve wanted,” he said.
Brown has his mind set on helping that on an individual level, playing better and to the level he expects out of himself. He says he and his teammates have been too relaxed and a little lazy, in addition to the mistakes.
Silverton definitely has the attention of Brown, who says it’s a big week for his team.
“If we pull this one out, which I really think we will, that’s how we know we’re going to win the league,” he said. “We’re going to be a really good team, potentially make a run. So it will be fun.”