By RUSTY MILLER AP Sports Writer
---- — COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even though he still harbored doubts about the coaching staff, Corey “Philly” Brown was a very productive player for Ohio State a year ago.
He had a team-best 60 catches for 669 yards and three touchdowns.
Yet he showed so little conviction and commitment that head coach Urban Meyer said he wouldn’t even walk across the street for him — a sentiment that Brown also shared about Meyer and his assistants.
“It’s hard to just trust somebody, right off. Especially me. I have a hard time trusting people right away,” Brown said of Meyer, who was in his first season as Ohio State’s head coach. “He’s a guy who came in here and it wasn’t the most pleasant meeting that we had. I guess everybody just looked at him, like, ‘Who are you to just come in here and just change this and change that?’ At the time we didn’t know that he knew what he was doing.”
But now Brown has come full circle heading into Saturday night’s game against the big team from his home state, Penn State. He’s a much happier, better adjusted person, and also one of the team’s figureheads.
“He’s 180 degrees from where he was,” Meyer said. “He’s an absolute leader of this team, unchallenged, unquestionable. If you said that a year ago, we would have gotten in an argument, because that’s not who he was in his development as a person, a player, as a student.”
Need evidence of how far the senior from Upper Darby, Pa., has come?
The Buckeyes, riding an 18-game winning streak, trailed at home to 17½-point underdog Iowa at halftime last week, 17-10.
After the assistants met with their units, Meyer — admittedly more of a “yeller” than an inspirational speaker — got a few things off his chest.
Brown then asked for permission to get up and speak. He didn’t mince words.
“We came in and you could kind of tell that the locker room was dead,” fellow wide-out Devin Smith said. “Nobody was really saying anything, everybody was just looking at each other. Philly stood up and basically just said, ‘This is not how we play.’ He was screaming, just letting it pour out, really. He was saying, ‘This is not us. This is not how we play. We need to come up this half and really show them what we’re about.’”
Brown can’t give a verbatim rendition of the speech — “there were some bad words in there” — but touches on the high points.
“I promised the defense that we were going to score when we got the ball. And we did,” he said. “I told them to get a stop and we’d score again. That happened. So I basically challenged everybody to come out and execute. And they did.”
Brown had a huge second half — throwing the key block on Carlos Hyde’s pinball-like go-ahead touchdown run — as Ohio State came back for a 34-24 victory.
“For a player to really jump on a whole team like that, and really go out on the second half and back up what he said in the locker room, it shows the character that he has,” Smith said. “That example will always be looked up to.”
Offensive tackle Taylor Decker said Brown’s words lit a fire.
“It was powerful because for a leader to stand up and say that we’re not carrying our weight as a team, we all need to pick it up,” Decker said. “Stuff like that doesn’t happen a lot. Because we hadn’t been down, really, at half. It was kind of moving. It did kind of motivate guys, ‘All right, let’s get going now.’”
Brown has 33 catches for 453 yards and six touchdowns, almost perfectly matching Smith’s 30 receptions for 434 yards and six scores.
But the numbers only scratch the surface. Brown has transformed himself into a team player.
“It’s night and day,” Meyer said. “He’s a guy that it’s not just on the field but off the field. His leadership, his attention to detail in academics and leadership — I mean he’s one of the most improved guys I’ve ever been around. And it’s really a pleasure to coach him.”
That probably won’t be the last time Brown gets up and berates his team, either.
He knows the power of hearing it from a kindred soul.
“When a coach screams, you kind of blank them out and not really hear what they’re trying to say,” he said. “But when a person that’s actually out there on the field with you grinding and in the war with you, when they say it, that’s when you know it’s real.”