Oct. 16, 2008
When fans see an athlete get injured, most times they only think of the physical challenges the individual must overcome in order to return to competition. However, the emotional toll that a serious injury can take on an athlete can be even more excruciating.
Three games into his senior season at David Anderson High School in Lisbon, Ohio, Vince Browne suffered a knee injury while on kick-return duty that sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
"It was tough. Especially when my team started to struggle," Browne said. "It was difficult, but it motivated me through rehab. It was a mental injury more than anything. It really breaks you mentally if you let it."
Despite the injury, Northwestern's coaching staff had pledged to honor their scholarship commitment.
"It was something we had discussed before I committed here," said Browne. "They said that if I were to get hurt that they would stand by me. We have a great coaching staff here and they stood by their word. They stuck with me."
Fast forward two years later to Sept. 20, 2008 and the coaching staff's commitment paid off in a big way. The Wildcats are hosting Ohio in a nonconference game at Ryan Field. After a year of rehab and then biding his time during a redshirt season in 2007 during which he switched positions from linebacker to defensive end, Vince Browne finally had his time to shine.
"I knew I was capable, but the first few games of the season I was struggling production-wise," Browne said. "I really didn't do anything different against Ohio but everything just started clicking. I was fortunate enough to get some opportunities and I took advantage of them."
Playing in just his fourth collegiate game, Browne ravaged the Bobcats' offensive line and backfield to the tune of three sacks, four tackles for loss, seven total tackles, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry. If there's a defensive statistic that's kept, he likely had it in that particular contest. Northwestern's defense set a school record in the contest by holding Ohio to four rushing yards in the game.
For his efforts, Browne was named the Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week.
The Wildcats' defense has played a huge role in the team's 5-0 start to the season. Browne credits much of Northwestern's success as a defense to the addition of new defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz
"I think Coach Hank brings a lot to the table," said Browne. "This year we're just focused on getting better each day. Coach Hank says that all the time, and that's what we're doing. He has a proven system that has been tested and it works. We've bought into his system and we're focused on getting better."
As the youngster on the defensive line and a relative newcomer to the position, Browne has the fortunate ability to turn to some talented teammates for advice and the opportunity to make plays on the field. The likes of Kevin Mims, John Gill, Adam Hahn, Corbin Bryant, Marshall Thomas and Corey Wootton command enough respect in their own right that it frees Browne up to make things happen.
"I've got some awesome guys ahead of me," Browne said. "The whole defensive line is awesome. They do a great job of bringing you along and hopefully we can keep it up."
In addition to his role on the defensive line, Browne is also helping out on special teams, and in the season's first few weeks, has helped NU's kickoff team rank as one of the best in the country.
"You don't see too many players his size (6-foot-5, 260 pounds) play on a kickoff unit and be one of the first guys downfield," said NU coach Pat Fitzgerald. "Vince just has a tremendous motor, whether he's playing defensive end or special teams."
After a long wait, Vince Browne's patience and persistence is paying off as the Wildcats continue to strive to reach college football's summit.