Oregon's Brown is working way back
EUGENE — Patience has become a virtue for Pharaoh Brown.
During the 2014 season, the Oregon tight end was contemplating an early exit to the NFL before sustaining a devastating leg injury Nov. 8 at Utah.
After undergoing three surgeries to repair the considerable damage, Brown spent the winter bedridden in his Cleveland home before returning to campus on crutches last spring.
While redshirting during the 2015 season, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound senior was able to start running again. Brown even did some work on the Ducks’ scout team.
Even though Brown has participated in Oregon’s first two spring practices this week, there’s no rush to prove he can return to first-team All-Pac-12 form in 2016.
“We don’t have a game until September,” Brown said. “By the time it’s game time, I’ll be out there ready. Right now, it’s just being smart. It’s spring time. We’ve got a lot of time. I still have months to rehab and get stronger until it’s time to really go.”
Kim Terrell, an associate director of athletic medicine in the athletic department, has been working with Brown on a daily basis throughout his rehabilitation. She discussed some of the small victories after her determined patient returned to the practice field last fall.
“Every day is kind of a new challenge,” Terrell said. “I don’t think there’s any real sort of monumental moments. For him, getting that motion back, being able to walk without crutches and get up and down the stairs to get to his apartment — the normal every day things you kind of take for granted — those were big moments.
“Then obviously building up strength and being able to run again, those kind of things were just moments that helped him psychologically.”
Brown wears a GPS tracking device during practices, which allows sports science coordinator Hugh Fullagar to monitor his movements and make sure he’s not over-exerting himself.
That hasn’t been an issue for the fifth-year standout, although the Ducks don’t put pads on until Friday.
“It has been a long journey coming back. Being able to be back on my team doing what I love is amazing,” Brown said. “Looking back from a year ago, I couldn’t walk. So now I’m out there running on the field. … I’m just grateful and thankful.”
In Brown’s absence last season, seniors Evan Baylis and Johnny Mundt split the duties. Their blocking contributed to Oregon finishing fifth in the nation in rushing (279.9 ypg) and the duo combined for 249 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
The Ducks will have an impressive tight end trio if Brown is ready to rejoin the rotation this fall.
“I don’t know off the top of my head somebody that has three solid tight ends that can get out there and make stuff happen,” Brown said. “I think we might be the deepest (team) at tight end.”
Brown, who had six touchdowns in 10 games before his injury, is ready to pick up where he left off as soon as his body catches up with his mind.
“Being here five years now, I know the offense inside and out,” Brown said. “Now I kind of focus on techniques and how can I get better at the small things. Knowing what’s going on is not my problem anymore. It’s just fine-tuning my game. I’m a veteran now. The assignments are second nature now.”
Brown, whose gruesome injury went viral, said he drew inspiration from Shaun Livingston’s comeback story. The longtime NBA veteran overcame a potentially career-ending knee injury and is a key role player for the Golden State Warriors in their quest to repeat as champions and set the regular-season victories record.
“I read all the fan mail that I got,” Brown said of the national interest in his recovery. “I’m just thankful for having the support of everybody and look forward to seeing everybody at the spring game and this season.”
Oregon’s spring game is April 30 and the opener is Sept. 3 against UC Davis.