Nice pickup: WR Bravo-Brown shines in debut
TAMPA -- As much time as college football programs can spend scouring the state for unclaimed talents, sometimes the smartest thing to do is just answer the phone when it rings.
That's essentially how Bulls assistant Vernon Hargreaves got in touch with true freshman walk-on receiver Stephen Bravo-Brown, who continued an improbable rise Saturday with four catches for 48 yards in his first college game.
"I just kept calling," said Bravo-Brown, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver who was overlooked by most colleges, despite playing for a state powerhouse in St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, as part of a receiving corps that sent three other receivers to BCS programs at Ohio State, Connecticut and Purdue. Bravo-Brown wanted to go to Lafayette, a I-AA program in the Patriot League, but had to spend last fall in prep school at Wyoming Seminary College Prep in eastern Pennsylvania.
When things didn't work out with Lafayette, he turned his focus to walking on at USF, looking up the Bulls online and calling one assistant coach after another until Hargreaves, who coaches defensive ends and special teams, picked up his phone.
"Growing up, I always liked them," Bravo-Brown said of USF. "This is just where God put me. I didn't stress about it. I just prayed about it a lot. I knew this was where I was meant to be once he answered the phone."
Check out Bravo-Brown's highlight tape from Wyoming Seminary on Youtube, and you can understand why the Bulls offered to bring him in as a preferred walk-on, which meant he was assured a roster spot if he could get into school. In just minutes, you see an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, then nine scoring receptions, showing off his hands and his route-running.
"He has the tools to be a Division I receiver," his prep school coach, Terry Karg, said last month. "He was a big-play receiver for us. Quite dynamic, and a legit 4.4 guy, with good ball skills."
Bravo-Brown had no idea USF would lose one starting receiver to the NFL draft, and two more would suffer offseason injuries that would sideline them at least the first month of the season. Others didn't get into school or graduated early, opening a window to allow Bravo-Brown to play right away. Literally -- he took the field on USF's fourth offensive play, ahead of seven healthy receivers who are on scholarship.
USF led just 24-14 with a minute left in the half, facing a third down on the Bulls' side of the field when quarterback B.J. Daniels found Bravo-Brown on the sidelines for a toe-tap 14-yard catch; the two hooked up for 9 more yards on the next play. Bravo-Brown barely knows the spotlight but is quick to deflect any praise that comes his way.
"The quarterbacks threw perfect balls, the line blocked perfectly, so they really contributed to helping me," he said.
Daniels saw Bravo-Brown as a player who showed up for summer voluntary workouts every session, putting in the extra time before camp even started, so he has a comfort level with him beyond the four weeks of formal practice they've shared.
"Bravo's real good -- quick, fast, explosive, has good hands. He can definitely help this team," Daniels said.
Bravo-Brown had luck back at Aquinas, where his position coach was former NFL Pro Bowl receiver Cris Carter, whose son Duron played receiver with him. Bravo-Brown wears No. 80 as a nod to Jerry Rice, but credits Carter for teaching him the fundamentals of the position, with USF receivers coach Phil McGeoghan working extensively with him in the past month.
Bravo-Brown isn't the only true freshman walk-on making a splash -- quarterback Bobby Eveld of Jesuit has made the same quick path onto the field, and it's a rare practice that you don't see the two of them staying late, throwing and catching together.
"We watch a lot of film and do a lot of post-practice passes, keep talking to each other to be on the same page," he said. "If we get Cover 2, we're going to do this, things like that. That really helped me (Saturday), too."
USF coach Skip Holtz has shown a quick trust in Bravo-Brown, and McGeoghan is already at the point where he doesn't think of him as a freshman or a walk-on, but as someone who can make plays when his number is called.
"I can't say enough good things about Bravo-Brown," he said. "I think he's coming along and developing. He's a guy I've grown to trust in the last three weeks. He has an infectious personality, a great smile and he wants to be good. I'm excited about him."