Piecing together the patchy, spiraling timeline of 2009′s No. 1 recruit:
Two and a half years ago, Bryce Brown was a consensus five-star prospect out of Wichita, rated by Rivals as both the top recruit at his position and overall. Brown fielded scholarship offers from LSU, Miami, Oregon, Tennessee and USC in addition to Kansas State. His older brother, Arthur, was linebacking for Miami during the final year of Bryce’s recruitment. You might remember the story of the brothers, father Arthur Sr. and Brian Butler undertaking a meditative fast before selecting Arthur Jr.’s college destination. In 2008, as a high school junior, Bryce gave a verbal commitment to the ‘Canes. National Signing Day 2009 came and went without a signature, however, and his LOI with Miami expired without renewal. In mid-March, Brown announced at the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame that he’d be signing with the newly installed Lane Kiffin regime at Tennessee.
Let’s back up to Brian Butler for a minute, because the Bryce Brown story isn’t the Bryce Brown story without Butler. Variously referred to as Brown’s trainer, mentor, adviser and handler, Butler drew national notoriety around Signing Day for revelations of 1997 felony fraud charges, suggestions that Brown might skip college for the CFL and fundraising on behalf of recruits to pay for college visits. To absolutely nobody’s surprise, the NCAA investigated Butler, and later Brown himself. Brown was cleared to play just days before the 2009 season kicked off.
Functioning as the team’s No. 2 back behind Montario Hardesty, Brown saw extensive playing time for a true freshman, supplanting the promising Tauren Poole and functioning as a divisive (and ultimately futile, given the length of his tenure) recruiting curio for Kiffin. Brown would finish the season with 460 yards on 101 carries, 137 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Nobody knew it then, but his collegiate career, from a volume standpoint, was all but over.
Brown’s requests to be released from his Tennessee scholarship reportedly began reaching Derek Dooley at the onset of spring practice in 2010. Dooley declined; the Brown family threatened legal action, and Bryce ended up leaving school without his new coach’s blessing.
It was an eerily quiet year for Bryce Brown news items for the rest of 2010, with Brown riding the bench for the required heels-cooling year at Kansas State. It remained quiet well into 2011, until Bryce and Arthur Jr. turned up in Nevin Shapiro’s report on booster corruption at Miami.
Surprisingly, after being named a preseason all-conference player, Brown-the-younger’s on-field presence was something of a breathy whisper as well: According to SI.com stats, he’s officially recorded three carries for 16 yards and no scores. The real backfield force at K-State this year has been John Hubert, who amassed all of 30 yards in 2010, and who’s combined with quarterback Collin Klein to give the Wildcats the nation’s 18th-ranked rushing offense.
Questions started to percolate last week, when the Wichita Eagle reported that Brown had been missing from team activities since the Miami game, during which he was pulled for a missed block. Both Butler and coach Bill Snyder cited personal issues when asked about Brown’s absence, and a team spokesman would neither confirm nor deny that Brown was still even with the team.
And less than a week later, on a sleepy Tuesday afternoon, local radio personality Jimmy Hyams reported that Brown is in Knoxville, visiting his girlfriend, and planning to take in the Tennessee-Georgia game. Oh, and planning on forgoing any further collegiate playing time in favor of the 2012 NFL draft. It’s the final toss in the bouncy house of the Bryce Brown chronicle, and as jarring as it might be to contemplate Brown’s career trajectory between the winter of 2009 and now, it’s all sort of fitting, isn’t it? College athletics don’t seem to suit the guy, or he doesn’t seem to suit college athletics.
Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Arthur Brown leads the improbably undefeated Wildcats in tackles and tackles for loss, and is hailed as a gamebreaker by Snyder. It’ll be Hubert who stares down a top 20 ground defense from Missouri this weekend. And Bryce Brown, the belle of the 2009 ball, will be off the grid somewhere, gunning for that 4.3.