Setting high standards

A standout on field, Wilde Lake's Brown learning to be stand-up person away from it


Poised to enter his sophomore year at Wilde Lake in August 2004, Zach Brown spent a few days working as a counselor at a youth football camp. At the end of one practice session, the 6-to-10-year-old campers asked Brown and some other instructors who the fastest player was on the Wildecats football team.

Alongside Brown crouched Nate Yarborough, a rising senior running back with speed to spare. Brown, who had played defensive tackle and fullback on the junior varsity team and was in only his second year of organized football, seemed to be in over his head in challenging the swift Yarborough to a 70-yard sprint.

Brown , however zoomed through the first 10 yards and became a blur. Ripping through the dry afternoon air with fluid yet powerful strides, he easily crossed the finish line first.

"That was pretty impressive, seeing that kind of speed," said Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall, recalling his first glimpse of Brown's vast potential. "Now keep in mind, he was 185 pounds coming out of the ninth grade and I didn't know how fast Zach was."

The speed and raw talent would not be a secret for long. Last season, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound linebacker and defensive end amassed 80 tackles, 20 of them behind the line of scrimmage. He collected six sacks, saw some action at running back and helped a young and inexperienced Wilde Lake team to a 6-3 record.

"He's probably the most gifted athlete we've had in the 34 years I've been here," DuVall said.

Brown, who also wrestles and runs outdoor track, may be the big man at Wilde Lake, but the moment he walks into the Columbia apartment he shares with his father, Lewis Brown, and uncle, Dickie Brown, he doesn't seem quite so big.

Lewis Brown stands an imposing 6-1 and 265 pounds, while his brother, Dickie, packs 295 pounds of sculpted muscle onto his 6-foot frame.

Lewis Brown routinely works 60 to 80 hours a week, mostly afternoons and evenings at Medquist, the Columbia medical transcription company. Dickie Brown works a more conventional schedule at BGE. He's at home when it's time to cook meals, assign chores and hand out punishments.

In February, Dickie Brown noticed that the cable bill was slightly higher than normal. Zach had ordered some movies without permission and, when confronted by his uncle, he denied being the culprit.

"About 10 minutes later, he told me the truth," his uncle said. "He lied at first, and I can't stand a liar."

Brown's punishment? No cell phone, television or video games.

After a phone call from school revealed that Brown had been late to a couple of classes last spring, he found himself removed from the track team for a few weeks.

"I got him where it hurts the most," Dickie Brown said. "If he slips up now, I'll literally walk on that football field and pull him off."

Losing his cell phone and video games was one thing, but having sports taken away was more than Brown could handle. With tears in his eyes, he packed up his belongings.

Noticing the duffel bags by the front door, Lewis Brown was not sympathetic. He sat his son down for a frank talk about being responsible for one's actions, and Zach unpacked his bags and accepted the consequences.

"We're tough on him," Lewis said. "We want him to make the right choices and have the opportunities we didn't have."

Growing up in rural South Carolina, Lewis, Dickie and their four other siblings were a fixture on the local ball fields and playgrounds.

Dickie was a nose guard and tackle on Estill High's South Carolina state championship football team in 1985. Lewis was a track star. Both brothers received recruiting letters, but college wasn't in their future.

Upon his graduation from high school, Lewis joined the military and later settled in Howard County after a stint at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Dickie started working straight out of high school. He left South Carolina in 1998 and moved to Maryland to live with his brother.

"I don't want Zach to make the same mistake I did," Dickie said. "I want him to go to college and major in something other than sports."

Brown lived in South Carolina with his mother until he was in the second grade. But his parents agreed that the educational options in Howard County were much better, so Lewis brought his son to live with him in Maryland.

In primary and middle school, Brown kept to himself and seemed to lack confidence, according to his father.

"The only reason I put him in sports was to help him with his social skills," Lewis said. "He needed that peer group interaction and he needed to make friends."

With the way he can change a game on offense and defense, Brown certainly isn't making any friends on opposing teams. In Wilde Lake's 24-21 victory against Long Reach on Sept. 16, Brown's full repertoire was on display.

On defense, he homed in on whoever had the football, and had a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown nullified by a penalty.

He also shredded the Long Reach defense with 138 rushing yards and caught a 70-yard touchdown pass.

In the closely contested third quarter, he took a handoff on an outside lead, ran over one defender and sped 25 yards to the end zone.

Sitting in the stands alongside Lewis, Dickie was watching his nephew play for the first time.

"If I had known he was that good, I would have seen him play a long time ago," Dickie said. "Seeing him lounge around the house, I had no idea he was that fast."

All he had to do was ask Nate Yarborough and a certain group of young campers.

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