Near the 50-yard line in A.W. Mumford Stadium, at the end of a warm, disappointing September night, Chris Browne dropped his head, clenched his teeth and started to walk.
Quickly, he paced back and forth, back and forth, unable to release his pent-up anger.
Chris Browne was frustrated.
Not again, he thought to himself. This isn’t happening again. It can’t be.
Since he arrived at Southern University in 2008, Browne had torn a knee ligament and lost an entire season. He had watched the coaching staff that recruited him get fired. He and the Jaguars had suffered mind-bending, last-minute losses to Southwestern Athletic Conference rivals, prompting Browne to spike his helmet in disgust.
Now, on this night, in Stump Mitchell’s home debut, they’d been pounded by Arkansas-Monticello. A Division II team.
He hated it. More than anything else, Chris Browne, a junior left tackle, hates to lose.
“When you put so much work and effort into something, you don’t like losing close games,” he says. “So when we experience losses like that, it’s like, ?Man, if I could’ve done this better, if I could’ve led them better.’ ... It’s really upsetting, to lose close games like that. To lose any game.”
Chris Browne is, in one word, competitive.
He was born and raised on the east side of Cleveland, into a family that lived a uniquely American story, one that’s both heartbreaking and uplifting
His grandparents, Tedd and Inez Browne, were South Carolina natives who moved to Ohio in the 1960s. Inez was a teacher.
Chris’ grandfather, Tedd Browne, was a burgeoning folk singer and recording artist.
His albums made Billboard Magazine. So did his death.
One night, in the tumultuous summer of 1968, Tedd Browne was on the way home from a gig at the Cabaret Lounge when he was murdered by gunfire at a street light.
The family believed it was racially motivated, and eight years later, Richard Robbins, who was white, was convicted of the murder.
Among others, Tedd Browne left behind a son, Michael Browne - Chris’ dad.
Michael Browne says now that he’s made “bad decisions in his life,” that he’s “the black sheep” of the family.
Chris’ uncle, David Browne, played defensive tackle at Iowa in the early ‘80s. His cousin, Roy Hinson, played eight seasons in the NBA.
Chris’ dad, however, wound up as a self-described handyman, fixing up houses for landlords to rent out.
“We didn’t have a whole lot,” Michael Browne said. “But the foundation came from Chris’ grandfather and grandmother.”
One day, when Chris was in the fifth grade, Michael Browne took his son to the Police Athletic League and all but demanded that Chris play football. Chris said no. He tried to get out of it.
“So I whooped him,” Michael Browne said. “I made him play. ... It took him about four or five games - but then, when his team made the playoffs, you could tell he really liked it.
“From about seventh grade on, we never had to wake Chris up to go to school. That’s what makes me so proud of him: He has always made the right decisions.”
When Chris and his two siblings were teenagers, their grandmother, Inez, opened up her house to them, allowing the kids to attend Shaker Heights High School in the suburbs.
Chris was an honors student, and on the football field, he started to excel - even on a rotten team.
“They had one win his senior year,” Michael Browne said. “I remember seeing him cry after that last game.”
College coaches, however, started to notice a promising left tackle who, while undersized, seemed to be a fine prospect.
For a while, Chris Browne looked like he was bound for one of two Mid-American Athletic Conference schools, Ohio or Akron.
“Akron - that’s where I wanted to attend,” he said. “I was excited, telling everybody about it. But they both backed out. Ohio kind of backed out a couple days before signing day. They said they were going with someone else - a bigger guy, a 6-6 guy from that part of Ohio. They were honest with me. It was disappointing. But then that put a chip on my shoulder.”
He was spotted by Mark Orlando, the former SU offensive coordinator, who told Browne in 2008 he could probably start right away.
He did. But not for long. In the third game of the season, against Mississippi Valley State, Browne tore his left ACL while trying to protect quarterback Bryant Lee. Originally, coach Pete Richardson thought Browne might miss all of 2009 - but Browne worked tirelessly to get in shape, and early that season, as a redshirt freshman, he was back in the lineup again.
He’s been there ever since.
Said second-year coach Stump Mitchell: “Chris Browne is a huge part of what we’re going to try to do. In order for us to be successful, we’re going to need him to be a great leader, and to be the type of football player he can be.”
All the while, Browne been an academic standout, as well. In three-plus years as a business-management major, he has made the dean’s list four times.
“You know, before he went off to college, he wrote down a list of all the things he wanted to accomplish,” Michael Browne said. “He’s accomplished almost every one of them.”
Of course, one major thing remains: Winning.
“Unfortunately, we can’t compete in the SWAC championship game,” Chris Browne noted. “We had a lot of close games last year. A lot of people are just harping on the negative. But Southern University is a staple of the SWAC. We want to improve, to get more in the win column. If we do that, we might not have a trophy. But we’ll be champions in our eyes.”