Penn State's Journey Brown speaks publicly for first time since his football retirement

Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Penn State running back Journey Brown (4) eludes Rutgers defensive back Damon Hayes (22) in the second half of an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Penn State running back Journey Brown spoke Thursday in his first public interview since announcing his retirement from football in mid-November.

After a routine coronavirus test conducted in early September, doctors discovered that the redshirt junior had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes the heart muscle to become abnormally thick. Brown was told by a doctor in Hershey that he would never be able to play football again.

Still, he sought a second opinion. So, he traveled to Ohio to visit the Cleveland Clinic, where he spent 12 hours undergoing various tests. It was there that a doctor told him that if he continued to play, there was a "very high" chance that he'd die.

"If I were to die on a Penn State football field, what would that do to my team?" Brown recalled thinking in the interview with Penn State athletics' Mitch Gerber. "Like, how would they think?"

Brown also thought about his family, who he said has already "experienced a lot of death." Ultimately, it was clear that the risk of playing wasn't worth it.

Not an easy decision: That didn't make the decision to step away from football any easier, though.

The 5-foot-11, 217-pound Meadville product broke onto the scene in 2019 by rushing for 890 yards and 12 touchdowns. He was poised to have the kind of season in 2020 that would set him up to be an early-round selection in the 2021 NFL Draft after arriving to Penn State as just a three-star recruit.

"It's tough, because we were just starting to see the best of this kid," running backs coach Ja'Juan Seider said in November. "There's no doubt in my mind that he was going to be the best running back in college football this year. It sucks he had to go through this, because I know how hard he worked to get to this point."

It's been the support of everyone around him — particularly Seider and head coach James Franklin — that's helped Brown stay positive.

In the days following his diagnosis, Brown said Seider and Franklin would call him almost daily to check in. Even now, Franklin texts Brown every day just to remind him that he loves him.

"The kid has been phenomenal," Franklin said in November when he told reporters that Brown's football career was over. "He's handled it better than, I think, anybody that I've ever been around. ... I know our team is going to continue to support him and rally around him."

No matter how difficult the situation is, Brown said he "wouldn't want it to be anyone else."

Trying to rediscover himself: Now, Brown is trying to rediscover himself. For years, all he knew was playing football, so he's looking to find a new passion.

"I made myself just 'Journey Brown' in football," Brown said. "And I know I'm more than a football player — I knew that my whole life. But for me, in my mind, I'm like, 'Journey, this is you. You were made for this.' So for it all to come to a stop at one time, it's kind of like more of a, 'OK, so what do you like to do?' You know, 'What makes you happy other than playing football?'"

In a way, Brown said that not having football in the picture anymore makes him excited about his next chapter — he's thrilled to put his energy into a new endeavor.

And though he doesn't exactly know what that will be yet, he knows that he'll attack it with the same mindset that he's attacked everything else with.

"For whatever comes next and for whatever I choose to do, and whatever seems most attractive to me — if it's in coaching or if it's in my major, RPTM (Recreation, Park and Tourism Management) — they just better be ready for 100 percent effort," Brown said, "and a regular-degular, goofy, cool-cat guy."