LAFAYETTE — The day junior cornerback Savion Brown began to understand exactly what he’d gotten himself into is easy to remember — September 5, 2015, or the UL-Lafayette season opener against Kentucky.
Before that day, the largest crowd Brown had ever played in front of was about 5,000 people in junior college.
“For homecoming,” Brown said.
In Lexington, all Brown had to do was hold his hand about a foot in front of his face and, voila, he was covering up more than 5,000 people. Playing in front of 60,000? Yeah, that got his heart racing.
“In the first half, I told (defensive coordinator Melvin) Smith, ‘I’m nervous, coach,’ ” Brown recalled. “He just sat me down at halftime and told me you’ve just got to play comfortable.”
Brown was burned for a long touchdown in the first half of that game, but has since been finding his stride for the Cajuns. While the crowds haven’t been as large, that day still enforced the realization that if he wanted to be ready for big-time environments, he had to never leave character.
He had to be a big-time football player all the time — including those days leading up to the game.
“Since he’s learned how to practice,” coach Mark Hudspeth said, “he’s become a better player.”
Brown was a late addition to the Cajuns 2015 signing class, and didn’t work with the team until it reported for preseason camp. As the new guy, he tried to stand out, and sometimes that clashed with the direction his coaches and teammates wanted him to be going.
“On the team, he’s my little brother, so I’ve been watching him since he’s been here,” junior defensive back Dominick Jones said. “He’s made big improvements, not just on the field but off the field.
“He used to be a hothead. He thought everybody was against him. Now he knows how to take coaching.”
The coaching was teaching him the finer points of the technique required to play the position. At a healthy 6-foot-2, 218 pounds, Brown could get away with some mistakes because of his size at the junior college level, but he began to realize the importance of technique at the Division I level.
He let Smith and fellow defensive backs Simeon Thomas and Jevante Watson take him to defensive back school, starting from the ground up.
“They really showed me everything, how everything is supposed to be done,” Brown said. “They showed me a whole new way to play corner.
“Technique-wise, it’s a big difference. It’s a whole lot of steps … footwork, basically stuff that the pros do. But it’s paying off now.”
Brown’s improvement has taken off over the last few weeks as he’s been inserted in the starting lineup in place of injured defensive back Troy McCollum.
Arkansas State rarely threw at him last week, and when it did late, Brown stayed glued to his man down the sideline and accounted for the Cajuns’ lone turnover of the night when he intercepted Freddie Knighten’s underthrown pass.
“It took a little bit of a learning curve, it took a little tough love,” Hudspeth said. “He has really accepted the coaching and he’s realized, ‘If I listen to the coaches, I will be a much better player.’
“I will give him a lot of credit, he has really bought in and I think it finally showed the other night.”
He’s come a long way since he stood wide-eyed on the field at Kentucky. He knows that because he can see it in himself.
“You know you’ve really gotten better when you see the improvement in yourself,” Brown said. “My coaches come up to me each and every day and tell me that I’m getting better. … But I’ve just got to keep working for it. … I really just want to be better than what I am right now.”