Week 4 - Images from the St. Charles East vs. Larkin game Saturday, September 18, 2010.
Brian Hill | Staff Photographer
It's always nice to get a second chance.
That's the approach St. Charles East's Michael Brown has taken this season after his difficult decision not to play football a year ago.
Brown, who saw limited varsity postseason action as a kick returner/running back behind Wes Allen two years ago when then-Saints coach Ted Monken called him up from the sophomore squad, helped the Saints' 4x200 relay team qualify for the state track meet later that spring.
Upon his return from Charleston in May of 2009, Brown made the decision to hang up his helmet and shoulder pads.
"I just decided to focus on track for college purposes," recalled Brown. "I figured if I spent the off-season working exclusively on track, it would increase my chances of being recruited by colleges.
However, his junior year didn't go exactly as planned.
"I tore a muscle in my foot midway through the outdoor track season and that was that," said Brown.
Several months earlier, Brown found himself in the unusual position as spectator watching his former teammates play football.
"It was a weird feeling," admitted Brown, who began missing being in the huddle almost from the Saints' opening kickoff last season.
"The first time I missed not playing was the first home game against Geneva," added Brown. "During the football season, I started to miss it more and more and I kind of regretted my decision."
Brown's former teammates didn't make it any easier on him as they bounced back from an 0-2 start with 7 straight regular-season victories and went on to capture their first outright Upstate Eight Conference championship in a decade.
"Honestly, I was happy the team had success," said Brown. "They did fine without me."
But it did hurt Brown not being a part of it on the playing field.
"I was extremely happy for the guys but it was painful not to be out there with them," said Brown. "Until last season, I had been playing football every year since I was in kindergarten. I remember going home after school last fall and it felt a little weird."
Toward the beginning of the outdoor track campaign in March, Brown started thinking about playing football again.
"After I tore the muscle in my foot, I started to realize that I was being a little selfish and that I shouldn't be hesitant to take advantage of opportunities," Brown said.
So Brown returned to the gridiron for his senior season.
But again things didn't go as planned as the Saints dropped their first five games.
"Our first few games, we were playing against some really good teams in the state (Carmel, Naperville North, Geneva)," Brown said. "I knew we could compete but every game we made a few costly mistakes. I'm not going to lie it was frustrating."
Brown eased some of those frustrations Friday night when he rushed for 244 yards and 4 touchdowns during the Saints' 45-14 victory over Streamwood.
The 5-foot-9, 165-pounder had his number called 28 times in the first half alone (the Saints ran 35 first-half offensive plays), gaining 143 yards and scoring on TD runs covering 4, 38 and 2 yards.
For good measure, he added a 62-yard TD run on the Saints' second play from scrimmage in the second half.
"Michael did a great job," said Saints coach Mike Fields. "And he was fresh. We kept him off of defense (defensive back) and it seemed like he was a half-step faster."
His performance came in front of a homecoming crowd that included his older brother John, who was a 3-year standout tailback for St. Charles East before playing 2 years at the University of Dayton.
John's collegiate career was cut short after suffering a concussion (he also suffered a concussion his senior season during the Saints' 7A quarterfinal loss to Belvidere) after which he was unable to receive medical clearance to return.
Michael, two inches shorter and a few pounds lighter than his older brother, doesn't like making any sibling comparisons.
"I know I'm my own person," said Michael, who is more elusive but not as powerful as his older brother was. "I know I don't have that big of a body and that I've got to continue to work on lowering my pads a bit."
While he admitted that playing football "makes my Mom nervous," his coach is certainly happy to have him back.
"He's a great kid and he's got great character," said Fields. "He's been a leader to our program. When Charlie (starting quarterback Fisher) went down with his injury, Michael jumped right in there as a leader and as a captain."
Fields realized early that Brown was going to make the most of his second chance.
"After one of our early games, he was very adamant, telling the guys that, 'Hey, I didn't play last year and it's the biggest regret of my life but I'm back now and I'm going to do everything I can to make you guys better,' " Fields said. "When he did that, I just knew. OK, he gets it. He bought into what we're trying to do as a team."
Once again, Friday nights are fun for Brown.
"I've really enjoyed coming back," Brown said. "Coach Fields was very good with me this summer when I was still rehabilitating my foot.
"I love practicing during the week with all the guys, and of course, playing on Friday nights. I just want to keep enjoying it with the guys and all of the coaches."