Antonio Brown, Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year again, continues to work
January 31, 2016 12:00 AM
Antonio Brown's work ethic continues to wow his Steelers teammates even more than his success.
By Craig Meyer / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Years before he became perhaps the most recognizable face for one of the NFL’s ubiquitous brands, Antonio Brown had moments like the one he experienced in August 2011.
Nearly an hour after a training camp practice had ended, he was still running routes and catching passes from quarterback Dennis Dixon. Save for a handful of reporters and fans, Saint Vincent College looked as barren as most campuses over the summer. After the then-second-year wideout hauled in a lob, a fan shouted down to him:
“You’re going to the Pro Bowl!”
Brown flashed a smile, pointed up to him and continued his routine. The dreams others envisioned for him were what he also saw for himself, but there was only one way to reach those goals — by doing the same kind of work he did that day.
It’s the very thing that allows him to smash franchise receiving records one year after already doing so the year prior. It’s what made it possible for a sixth-round NFL draft pick and former Mid-American Conference walk-on to evolve into arguably the best offensive player in football.
And as he prepares to take home the Dapper Dan Sportsman of the Year award for the second consecutive year, that dogged determination continues to carry and elevate him.
“Coach T [Steelers coach Mike Tomlin] always uses the phrase with Antonio that he’s a much better worker than he is a football player or a talented player,” Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake said. “He’s obviously very talented and makes a lot of plays, but he works like crazy, like a madman. That guy is always working. That’s something I admire about him. It’s no surprise and no secret that he makes all those plays.”
That desire and drive stem largely from his background, one in which he worked harder because he had no other choice. A multi-sport star coming out of Miami Norland High School, academic concerns prevented him from attending Florida State University. After a year at North Carolina Tech prep school, he eventually found his way to Central Michigan, where the team’s wide receivers coach, Zach Azzanni, convinced him to join the team as a walk-on.
It didn’t take long for him to prove his worth. Within weeks, he had a scholarship, and by the end of his three-year stay at the school, he was a two-time first-team All-American.
The Steelers picked him in the sixth round of the 2010 draft and by October of his rookie season, they began to realize what they stumbled upon.
“That taste that he has in his mouth is the same taste he brings every day to work,” said Scottie Montgomery, Steelers wide receivers coach from 2010-12 and current head coach at East Carolina. “Every time he lines up at the position, he has it with him.”
Rather quickly, Brown developed a reputation for devoting extra time to his craft, often staying on the field well after practice to catch balls and work on his route-running. Outside of James Harrison, Blake said nobody on the team is in the gym more than Brown.
And even when he was coming off a banner 2014 season in which he broke every meaningful receiving record in Steelers history, he traveled to Duke University last spring to train with Montgomery, who hadn’t coached him in three years. He responded by topping his marks from the previous season while being graded as the NFL’s top offensive player by Pro Football Focus.
At a point in his career where it would be natural to rein in that intensity, Brown trudges on as if he were an unproven rookie rather than one of the league’s brightest starts. It’s all he knows.
“Antonio, he doesn’t like to disappoint,” Montgomery said. “He knows people took chances on him there. When we paid him, he was fresh out of his second year. He knows that. He understands all that and that’s why he goes out every single day to prove that he is the best one in the game right now. He’s extraordinary. He’s what you want at that position.”
Craig Meyer: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.
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