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Brown prepared to hold the line when Mater Dei goes for Division 1 title
SANTA ANA – Tommy Brown wanted to be a Knight.
Instead, he is a Monarch. And he’s OK with that.
Mater Dei junior offensive lineman Tommy Brown’s father, Vince, is the baseball coach at Foothill, home of the Knights. Vince also served many years as Foothill’s athletic director. Brown’s older brother Dillon earned All-Orange County honors on the Knights baseball team this past spring.
When Brown finished his eighth-grade year in the spring of 2014 at Hewes Middle School, which, like Foothill, is a Tustin Unified School District school, the Browns figured Tommy would follow Dillon to Foothill.
The Browns live in the Orange Unified School District. They are just one block north of the Tustin-Orange school district boundary. In ’14, Tustin Unified would not accept students from outside of the district.
“All of my life,” Brown said, “Foothill was where I was going to go. I was even the ball boy for the Foothill football team.”
“Dillon enrolled at Foothill in a year it was OK to (enroll) from out of the district,” Vince said. “We were looking forward to Tommy coming to Foothill and playing lacrosse and football at Foothill.”
Mater Dei was not alien territory for the Browns. His father played football at Mater Dei and still holds the school’s shot put record. All three of Vince Brown’s brothers attended Mater Dei and played football there.
“So I took the test to get into Mater Dei,” Brown said, “and here I am.”
Brown, now a 6-foot-7, 315-pound left tackle, had never played tackle football before his freshman year at Mater Dei. Youth football programs have weight restrictions.
He was too big. But he was playing lacrosse in the Foothill feeder program, having junked baseball at age 12 because, as Tommy said, “baseball’s too slow.”
“Lacrosse was great fit for him,” his father said. “Lacrosse let him hit kids with sticks and not get sent to the principal’s office.”
Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said lacrosse was good for Tommy in another way.
“Lacrosse put Tommy to work on his footwork,” Rollinson said. “That was a great idea on his dad’s part.”
Brown’s first football game on the Mater Dei freshman team did not go well. It was an away game against Centennial of Corona.
“It was like 98 degrees out there,” Brown said. “I was just dying, and it was my first time ever wearing knee braces. I was so bad, but I didn’t really know it because I was just out there hitting people.
“And then I thought, ‘Maybe I’m not going to be playing football.’”
He played defensive lineman some that freshman year, but the coaching staff figured offensive line was his destination. Brown improved.
“Then comes his sophomore year,” Rollinson said, “and we thrust him onto the varsity offensive line of one of the top programs around.”
Brown started at right tackle that sophomore season. Now he is the starting left tackle.
All of the coaches at Mater Dei helped him get better, Brown said, and attending Jesse Sapolu’s Men In The Trenches linemen camp this past spring accelerated his growth.
“I’d go to the camp on Saturday morning,” he said, “then I’d go back on Sunday morning and one-on-one work with Jesse.”
He also credits Mater Dei assistant coaches Rick Upcraft and Chris Ward for raising his level of play.
Brown is enjoying being part of the Mater Dei offense that is averaging 55 points a game, has helped quarterback JT Daniels set all sorts of records and has the Monarchs in the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 championship game against St. John Bosco on Saturday at Angel Stadium.
“Our line is great,” Brown said. “We all communicate really well. We’re trying to make sure JT doesn’t get touched and that we’re dominating with the run.”
Mater Dei has had some standout offensive linemen over the decades, but has not had a tackle of Brown’s dimensions.
“God blessed him with that size,” Rollinson said, “Tommy is very strong. With another year of weight-lifting coming and that final year of spring football on him, look out.”
College programs are on the lookout. Brown has scholarship offers from 10 colleges: Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Mississippi State, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Virginia and UCLA.
Brown has made some unofficial visits to colleges. He was wearing a Notre Dame jacket during an interview Wednesday. But don’t read anything into that.
“It hard to find jackets my size,” Brown said. “Whenever I go anywhere, I go to the student store. Notre Dame has a very large student store.”
Mater Dei beat St. John Bosco, 26-21, in a Trinity League game on Oct. 21. Brown is looking forward to Saturday’s rematch because he is confident the Monarchs, especially himself, can do better.
“I had a pretty bad game against Bosco the first time we played them,” Brown said. “The first half, I played pretty badly. The second half I came back, but everybody still remembers the first half.”
“I was lunging,” he said. “I was technically unsound. Jacob Callier, their great defensive end, was taking advantage of me.”
Callier, who committed to Colorado, can do that against many offensive linemen.
“I just had to calm down and play how I can play,” Brown said. “So that’s why I’m excited for the chance to do that for a full game.”
Brown gets a chance to do that, and play in a CIF championship game at Angel Stadium, because he couldn’t go to Foothill.
“The football program here at Mater Dei is great and I’m able to play the best competition,” Brown said. “It was definitely a blessing in disguise for me to come here.”
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