Brown’s time at UI is full of highlights


Illinois running back Dre Brown (left) celebrates with wide receiver Ricky Smalling (right) after scoring a touchdown during the game against Minnesota at Memorial Stadium on Saturday. The Illini won 55-31. Brown ran for a career-high 92 yards on the day and scored his first collegiate touchdown.

By Tatiania Perry, Assistant sports editor

Dre Brown graduated high school early with his sights set on college football. 

The 17-year-old three-star recruit and No. 6 player in the state of Illinois chose to stay home to wear orange and blue. In 2015, he arrived on campus, but it wouldn’t be until the fall of 2017 that Brown would finally see the field during the regular season.

Brown was sidelined with an injury during his first season with the team, only to have it happen again come the 2016 season. In all, he missed nearly 2 1/2 seasons after enduring two torn ACLs, two sprained MCLs, a stress fracture and four knee surgeries.

While battling his injury troubles, the running back had to sit back and watch as the team went through several program-shifting changes. The coaching staff went from Tim Beckman to Bill Cubit to Lovie Smith, greatly impacting the direction of the team’s future.

Brown stuck with it.

“Lots of growth, especially off the field,” Brown said. “Just kind of becoming a man and what not. Coming in here at 17, I graduated high school early, and now I’m married, which is just crazy.”

The years being sidelined weren’t all that bad for Brown, who met his wife at the University and got married in 2017. It wasn’t long before his first collegiate game as an Illini on Oct. 7 of that year as a member of the special teams unit that Brown popped the question.

“I was much more nervous for the engagement than my first college football game,” Brown said in 2017.

He may only have been engaged by the time he appeared in his first collegiate game, but he was married well before his first collegiate touchdown.

In the Illini’s 55-33 victory over Minnesota Saturday, Brown broke loose for a 72-yard run for his first score. In addition, he put up a career-high day on the ground with 92 total yards.

The moment sparked an emotional reaction from Brown and his teammates, who head coach Lovie Smith said were even happier than Brown himself.

“It was cool, just a lot of people reaching out to me,” Brown said. “Some people I haven’t talked to in a while and just kind of all my close friends texting me … with all the social media nowadays, it kind of just blew up. It’s awesome; it’s been a while since that happened.”

The DeKalb native saw playing time last year and proved to the Illini coaching staff he could be productive at the position.  

He got his first offensive snaps and carries on Oct. 14, 2017 at Rutgers. He had a breakout game at Ohio State, rushing for a career-high 76 yards on 15 carries, 5.1 yards per carry and finished the season with 138 yards on 31 carries 4.5 yards per carry.

“He has been through a lot,” head coach Lovie Smith said of Brown at a press conference in 2017. “Similar to Mike Dudek, that long road to recovery when you’re having to fight through injuries, but sometimes when you go that long a period of time, you strengthen a lot of things up in your body.”

When looking ahead to this season, the running back depth chart looked quite competitive. Reggie Corbin, Mike Epstein and Ra’Von Bonner were all healthy and demonstrated they could get a reliable workload. 

Unfortunately for Brown, he started off this season with a similar tale. The running back missed his first three games due to injury. But, he took advantage of the opportunity he was given against Minnesota and could be a front-runner for more playing time in Rod Smith’s offense, especially with the health of Mike Epstein in question.

As the season stretches on, Brown could continue to do the unimaginable.

“(I) never would have imagined (getting married and) never would have imagined the injuries,” Brown said. “But I think they’re all for a purpose, and they’ve helped me become a better man and taught me lessons that down the road, nothing can beat.”

As for the junior’s comments on his first collegiate touchdown, it was simple: “That was awesome.”

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