Former Cherokee High School standout Blace Brown is keeping his dream of playing professional football alive.
After an all-conference career as a defensive back at Troy, Brown has had to make some adjustments since catching on with the Canadian Football League's Saskatchewan Roughriders, but he has enjoyed his experience.
“Everything is really just listening and adapting to the older guys,” Brown said. “You want to get accustomed as quick as possible to all the new rules and the way you have to play the game.”
Some adjustments have been harder than others for Brown at the cornerback position.
The biggest has been getting used to the larger field. Fields in CFL stadiums are 110 yards long, not including end zones, and 65 yards wide, as opposed to American football fields, which are 100 yards long and 53 1/3 yards wide.
That has forced Brown to completely change the way he plays.
“They just play DB different up here,” he said. “You can’t be on top of your receiver, or you’ll get left behind. You have to trail your receiver the entire time. The field is so big, you have to play underneath the entire time. That’s hard because, my whole life, I’ve been taught to stay right there on the hip.”
As Brown got accustomed to playing a slightly different version of the game, he also got used to being a professional. He got his first true taste of the experience July 6 against the Calgary Stampeders, when he made his first start and took the field in a professional game for the first time.
“The atmosphere was crazy,” Brown said. “I didn’t expect the fans to be so involved. They told us the Saskatchewan Roughriders had the best fans in the CFL, and I definitely felt that. It was cool playing corner in front of them like that.”
While his first professional game came in Canada, Brown does have some experience in the professional ranks in America.
He spent time with some of the top draft prospects at the NFL combine, and after spending time in rookie minicamps with the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions, his perspective on the game changed.
“The combine taught me how to prepare and take care of my body for real,” Brown said. “Everyone is so good. Even up here, it’s all guys who have played in the NFL or were good enough and didn’t get their chance. You saw that you can never take it easy. You always have to be improving, because you’re nowhere near where you want to be.”
It has been a similar revelation for Brown in terms of his coaches, many of whom have NFL or big-time college resumes.
“I had no idea these kinds of coaches were up here,” Brown said. “When you look at what some of them have been able to do, their reach really extends back to where I was in the States.”
Since his lone start, Brown has been moved back to the Roughriders' practice squad. It has allowed him to continue his quest to stay in playing shape for a shot at the NFL, but it has not altered his mindset.
“It’s the same mindset I’ve had since high school, being under the radar,” Brown said. “In college, I was a walk-on. My mindset hasn’t changed or affected me too much, because I’ve been through it before. I’ve been doubted and been under the radar my whole life. It’s only motivation.”
While Brown is on the practice squad, he said his only goal is to make it back onto the game roster. Long-term, he is still determined to make it to the NFL, using this season as a starting point.
“I want to have a big impact on this team,” Brown said. “It’s a long season. We still have plenty of games left to make an impact. My goal is just to make something happen. I want to make some big plays, so I can get noticed, and people will realize I’m still here in football shape ready to make plays.”