Injured Duke star Brown discusses clouded football future
Kelby Brown took his expected place at the linebackers table on Saturday as Duke football fans lined up for autographs and photos at Meet the Blue Devils Day.
The only difference is Brown won’t be on the field making tackles, interceptions and fumble recoveries this season, like he was as an all-ACC performer last season when Duke won a school-record 10 games.
Brown greeted fans and signed autographs Saturday with his left knee propped up on a folding chair. On Wednesday, the 23-year-old Brown had reconstructive knee surgery at Duke University Hospital to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament that ended his season before it began.
Talking Saturday in his first interview since suffering the injury in a scrimmage last Monday, Brown said he knew immediately that he had suffered a serious injury.
“I felt it pop,” Brown said. “My knee buckled. I’ve had the same thing happen on my other knee so I knew right away.”
Brown has already missed one entire season, in 2012, while recovering from a torn ACL in his right knee. He also suffered torn ligaments in that knee in 2010 as a true freshman.
Brown has the option of applying to the NCAA for an additional year of eligibility due to his injuries. In cases like his, the sixth year is usually granted.
But Brown has yet to decide if he’ll attempt such a move.
“It’s too soon to think about it,” Brown said. “It’s kind of emotional. I’m not clear-minded yet. I’m going to take my time.”
That doesn’t mean he’ll be taking it easy while rehabilitating his knee.
“I’m going to push my knee to get back as soon as I can as if I’m going to come back,” Brown said. “No doubt that’s the best way to rehab. But I have to put a lot more time into making a decision.”
A two-time Academic all-ACC selection, Brown graduated from Duke earlier this spring with a 3.7 grade point average while earning an evolutionary anthropology degree. This school year, he’s taking classes at Duke’s Divinity School with an eye toward possibly entering the ministry.
“I think ministry is something I’ve felt a calling to,” Brown said. “I think I would enjoy doing that. Hopefully `D’ school will give me a taste of what I might like or like to pursue. Long term I’m still kind of thinking med school. Who knows? We’ll see what happens.”
Brown’s presence at Saturday’s fan event, so soon after he was released from the hospital and surgery, didn’t surprise his coaches.
“I hugged his neck and told him I was proud of him,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “This is emotional to do and it’s also fatiguing. He’s not far out of surgery. He is a tough-minded and tough physical person.”
Brown’s injury cast a pall on Duke’s practices this week as they prepared for their Aug. 30 season-opening game with Elon. But he played a key role in helping everyone move forward without him.
Less than 24 hours after he was injured, he addressed the team Tuesday morning and promised to help Duke’s team as best he can while being sidelined this season.
“The reality I had to face was, is football everything to me or is God everything to me?” Brown said. “The truth is God is enough. I can fall back on God no matter what happens. That’s allowed me to look on this season with a positive perspective. I’m not going to be able to play on the field but I hope to still be a positive impact on my team. I told those guys I’m going to do everything I can to get us to the ACC championship.”
David Helton, who led the ACC in tackles (133) last season while playing weak-side linebacker, has shifted over to the middle linebacker slot vacated when Brown was injured.
Brown’s work with Helton, as well as the rest of the team’s linebackers, figures to play a pivotal role in the defense overcoming his on-field loss.
“He’s another set of eyes for me,” Duke linebackers coach Jim Collins said. “He’s tremendous in the meeting room. He has a great understanding of what we are doing. He can actually relate to them at times when I’m not available.”
While clearly not the role Brown figured he’d be filling a week ago, he’s come to terms with his new reality and foresees having an impact.
“Some of the skills I’ve developed in studying opponents,” Brown said. “Individual players will have certain tendencies. Hopefully I can pick up on some of those and tip my teammates off and even on the field be able to call some things out.”