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Long road back

EUGENE — Oregon tight end Pharaoh Brown would rather look to the future than dwell on the past.

Moving on from the leg injury that sidelined him all of last season, Brown is focused on making the most of his senior season. So far, so good.

Brown scored on an 11-yard touchdown pass from new Ducks quarterback Dakota Prukop on Saturday in the second quarter of Oregon's 44-26 victory over Virginia.

"It was a sweet play," he said afterward. "The crowd was going crazy. It's great to score. It's been a long time."

He finished with five catches for 55 yards, including a 21-yard reception.

Brown has returned to the starting lineup for the No. 22 Ducks this season for the first time since his horrific leg injury during a game at Utah in November 2014. He stepped on the foot of a teammate in a goal-line play. Propelled forward, he came down awkwardly and his knee gave way.

Television wouldn't replay the injury, a sign that it was bad. But even when Brown awoke in severe pain as the ambulance rushed to the hospital, he had no idea.

Later he learned he faced amputation because the blood flow to his lower leg had been cut off. In all, he faced three surgeries and there were concerns he'd have trouble walking again — forget about football.

Brown's injury came just as he was emerging. He had 25 catches for 420 yards and six touchdowns in 2014, including a TD catch in the game against the Utes before the fourth-quarter injury. It was the most receiving yards at the position in three seasons.

The Ducks would go on that year to play in the first College Football Playoff, losing in the title game to Ohio State. Quarterback Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy that season. Brown himself was named to the Pac-12 first team.

Now he's part of a Ducks offense that looks to have adjusted well to Prukop so far this season.

The graduate transfer quarterback threw for 331 yards and three touchdowns against the Cavaliers. Royce Freeman rushed for 207 yards and three touchdowns, including an 85-yard scoring run, and Olympian Devon Allen caught four passes for 141 yards and a TD.

"I think we're getting better each week. We made strides from where we were last weekend. That's what it's all about," said Brown. "I think if we can just keep getting the ball to playmakers like that, the sky's the limit."

Next up for the Ducks (2-0) is Nebraska on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, Oregon's biggest challenge in the nonconference season.

Brown's contribution is — and will be — key for the Ducks, who have already been hit by injuries at tight end.

Johnny Mundt, who had a touchdown in the opener, missed the Virginia game and was seen wearing a knee brace. Fellow tight end Evan Baylis has not played this season.

Oregon does not comment on injuries, so there's no way of knowing when Mundt might return, but there were indications that Baylis could be ready for the Huskers, and he was listed behind Brown on the depth chart released Tuesday.

Coach Mark Helfrich is aware of taxing Brown too much, too early.

"We'll see how that turns out in the future," said Helfrich. "That's one of those things you have to spell a guy like that because he did a lot in the run game, did a lot in the pass game and he needs to stay fresh for the long haul."

For his part, Brown doesn't want to field questions about the injury anymore.

"This ain't no feel good story," he proclaimed in an all-caps post on Instagram after his touchdown. "Time away only made me better. This is a takeover."

Oregon's Pharaoh Brown, left, is brought down by Virginia's Tim Harris after a pass reception in the first quarter of their game in Eugene Saturday. Brown is moving on from a severe leg injury that sidelined him last season. CHRIS PIETSCH/EUGENE REGISTER-GUARD