Juwan Brown was 2 years old when he first picked up a football. It was a Christmas gift from his mother, Nikki.
The toddler honed his throwing skills day and night, tossing the ball into the lap of his great-grandmother, Lueberta Jones, who was confined to a wheelchair after having her leg amputated.
From then on, Brown forever had a football in his hands, carrying it, twirling it, tossing it.
"Some kids grew up having a blankey," Nikki Brown said. "Juwan had a football."
It is what Brown is able to do now with a football in his hands that has captivated a school and a community.
A dynamic threat with his arm and his legs, the Largo senior has accounted for 1,799 yards and 20 touchdowns this season. He has completed 72 percent of his passes and has thrown 17 touchdowns, including eight in his past three games. And he has yet to throw an interception. His 151 pass efficiency rating leads the county.
What makes the numbers even more impressive is Brown has sat out most of the second half the past four games.
"Imagine the numbers Juwan would have been able to put up had he played a full game most of the season," Packers offensive coordinator Ryan Taylor said.
But Brown's candidacy as the county's top player has been more compelling than just his statistics.
In the season opener against Bradenton Southeast, Brown overcame severe cramps to engineer a winning drive in the final minute, capped by a touchdown pass on the final play of regulation. That propelled Largo (10-0) to an undefeated season, the program's eighth straight district title and a home playoff game tonight against state power Armwood in the Class 6A region quarterfinals.
"I knew I could have a good season," Brown said. "But I didn't know it would be this good."
Brown has always been capable of taking command of the spotlight at quarterback. He has played the position since he was 7 in flag football. He continued to shine in youth leagues and was anointed the next superstar upon arriving at Largo four years ago.
But Brown has had trouble producing eye-popping numbers. He was injured most of his sophomore season then spent the majority of his junior year handing off the ball in an offense that relied primarily on the run.
This season Brown has been unleashed, due in large part to two factors: a small offensive line and a receiving corps that is the deepest and most talented the Packers have ever had.
"We're still balanced and we're running the same offense," Taylor said. "But we've allowed Juwan to do a little more with the ball in his hands. He's really matured in the past season and is making great reads and getting the ball to everyone."
With an offense designed around him, Brown has given opposing teams plenty of headaches. Drop eight defenders in coverage? Brown will pick whichever open receiver he pleases. Blitz? Brown will hit a slot receiver on a quick route or dart around the end on a long run. And if all that fails, Brown can hand off to Jarvis Stewart, perhaps the county's best running back.
"We have a lot of options," Brown said. "And we're using them all really well now."
Now comes the toughest task. The Packers face a defense that is known for creating turnovers. The Hawks' secondary is led by Leon McQuay III, who has a team-high four interceptions.
"Armwood is a great team with a great defense," Brown said. "It's a huge challenge for us. McQuay is among the best in the nation. I just want to do as much as I can whenever I have the ball in my hands.
"But the biggest thing is I want to win."
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Class 6A region quarterfinal
Armwood (7-3) at Largo (10-0)
Scouting report: The Hawks, a consistent state title contender, have not lost a first-round playoff game since 1999. Armwood's biggest offensive threat is Alvin Bailey, whom the Hawks plan to use at quarterback to take advantage of his athleticism. Bailey was the team's top receiver in the regular season with 658 yards. The Hawks' three losses have all come to playoff teams (Delray Beach American Heritage, Hillsborough and Plant).
Last playoff appearances: Armwood beat Miami Central 40-31 in last year's Class 6A state title game (later had to forfeit the title). Largo lost 29-23 to Hillsborough in the 6A region quarterfinals last season.
Rodney Page's pick: The Packers have enough this year to beat Armwood - barely. Largo 21-17.
Bob Putnam's pick: This seems like a special season for the Packers. Largo 21-16.