Cam Brown, Penn State's 'alpha male,' makes some big gains at linebacker
Burtonsville, Maryland, is about 15 miles north of Maryland Stadium, and it’s where Cam Brown began training to become a Penn State linebacker.
Brown spent part of his summer back at home mentoring kids who want to follow his path. He also trained there for six weeks, returning to familiar ground as his final college season approached.
“I feel like getting away from State College is helpful in its way,” Brown said before the season. “In some ways I lost a little by disconnecting with the team a little bit, but at the same time, on a personal level, I feel like it was a good step for me. I feel like I got back to that old-school, gritty training that I knew. I was in my backyard running hills in the morning. It was more natural, organic.”
Brown, a senior captain for Penn State, returns home Friday night when the Lions visit Maryland for their Big Ten opener in College Park. Brown is one of 11 Penn State players, including three starters, from Maryland, a sign of how valuable the recruiting terrain is for both programs.
Off to strong start: Brown is off to a strong start for Penn State’s defense. He is third in tackles (18), was a coaches’ defensive player of the game against Buffalo, and he made two significant plays to secure the 17-10 win against Pitt.
Late in the fourth quarter, Brown pressured Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett into a critical third-down incompletion, which prompted Pitt to attempt a 19-yard field goal. On the game’s final play, Brown used his 6-5 frame to deflect a pass in the end zone.
Brown already has forced (and recovered) a fumble after leading the team with three forced fumbles last season. He also had a solo sack against Pitt. And now he’s playing at home on a Friday night, needing as many as 20 tickets for family friends.
Further, coach James Franklin wants Brown and his fellow DMV teammates to be in control of that hometown emotion.
“He’s doing really well,” Franklin said of Brown, “… but I’m also aware that, when a kid from Maryland is going back home, it is a little bit different for him. So we want to make sure that our process is as consistent as possible, so guys like Cam and other guys don’t start focusing on things that don’t matter.”
Opting to return: Following last season, Brown briefly considered leaving early for the NFL, but he wasn’t satisfied with his career at Penn State. Further, as Penn State’s “alpha,” as strength coach Dwight Galt calls him, Brown would have given up a significant leadership role on the team.
But instead of training at Penn State the entire summer, Brown returned home for a six-week internship at The Bullis School in nearby Potomac. He mentored kids during the day and trained with some former high school teammates, many of whom have NFL aspirations, at night.
Brown, a kinesiology major, said the experience not only helped him reset physically but also nurtured confidence in his leadership style, which he asserted soon after Penn State lost to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl.
“When you say ‘alpha male,’ that means he’s secure in providing," Brown said. “He’s protecting and trying to help. That’s what I’ve been doing since January.”
Putting on weight: Since arriving at Penn State, Brown also has been trying to gain weight. He weighed under 200 pounds as a freshman, not the ideal size for a linebacker. Brown has played while gaining weight steadily for four years, though he always fell short of reaching his 230-pound goal.
Until this past spring.
He stepped on a training-room scale to see it register 230 pounds. He stepped off and back on to confirm. It marked a milestone that he has been able to maintain through the season.
“I always felt like, when I was at 220, I could get pushed around,” Brown said. “I felt like, running at full speed, if somebody gives me a little nudge, I moved more than I wanted. At 230 I’m more stout. I feel like I can pack more punch.”