C.J. Brown remembers the play like it was yesterday.
Brown, a Cranberry native and quarterback at the University of Maryland, was running the two-minute drill during a preseason practice last August when he scrambled outside the pocket and made a cut.
It was a move the dual-threat quarterback had made thousands of times. What made this particular occasion unique was that his knee gave out on him.
"I just kept saying, 'No. This can't happen,'" Brown recalled. "I didn't want it to be true."
Missing all of last season with a torn ACL in his right knee was understandably frustrating for Brown. All he could think about was putting maximum effort into rehabbing and returning to the field this season.
That time has finally come.
Brown, a junior, is expected to be the starting quarterback when Maryland plays host to Florida International in its season opener Aug. 31.
"The knee is doing great. It's 100 percent," said Brown, a 2009 Seneca Valley graduate. "I've been cleared by the doctors and I don't have to wear a brace. It feels really well. I'm not held back in any way."
Brown is hoping to become the game-changing type of quarterback he was when he started five games and played in 10 during his sophomore season in 2011. That season, Brown threw for 842 yards and seven touchdowns, to go along with 574 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He had three of the top eight rushing performances in school history, including 162 yards against Clemson.
Entering last season, Brown was touted as one of the top young quarterbacks in the ACC, and his Maryland team -- guided by new coach Randy Edsall -- was expected to make a huge improvement over its 2-10 record from the previous season. Instead, Brown and a long list of other key players missed extended time. The Terrapins finished 4-8.
"To sit out knowing that I couldn't help my team, it was really disheartening," Brown said. "It was really difficult. I just tried to help my team any way I could."
This will be Brown's fifth season at Maryland. He redshirted in 2009, sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in the first game of the 2010 season, put forth the breakout 2011 season, and then was set back by the knee injury last season. The NCAA has granted Brown a sixth year of eligibility, enabling him to play two more seasons.
"I'm just really excited to be out with the guys," said Brown. "After taking a year off and busting my tail, I'm just really eager to get back out there.
"There's a rush of emotion to be playing the game you love. To get back out there and compete and play for the University of Maryland means a lot."
Maryland will compete in the ACC for the final time this season, as the Terrapins begin playing in the Big Ten in 2014.
Other former WPIAL players with the Terrapins are sophomore quarterback Perry Hills (Central Catholic), sophomore defensive back Anthony Nixon (Central Catholic) and sophomore defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson (Woodland Hills). Hills started seven games as a freshman last season before sustaining a torn ACL Oct. 20 against North Carolina State.
Brown recently got some personal instruction from two well-known quarterbacks -- Peyton and Eli Manning. Brown attended the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La. Brown, along with some of his peers, had a private workout with the Mannings and spent most of the time as a counselor, tutoring more than 1,000 high school players. Brown roomed with Louisiana-Monroe's Kolton Browning and said he developed friendships with players such as Florida's Jeff Driskel and Michigan's Devin Gardner. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Alabama's A.J. McCarron were also there.
"It was unbelievable," Brown said of the camp. "To go down there and be surrounded by those caliber of quarterbacks and to get to know them was great."
From that experience, Brown believes a great season could follow.
"Our expectations are really high," he said. "We have lots of guys coming back. It's our last year in the ACC and we want to go out with a bang."