When Brian Carlson took over as head coach of Sparta (N.J.) Pope John XXIII in 2011, he knew he had a special player in wide receiver Noah Brown.
Unfortunately for the first-year coach, he barely got a chance to show off his talented sophomore against opponents. In the first game of the season against Morristown Delbarton, Brown suffered an injury that sidelined him for nearly the entire year.
"My first year, his sophomore year, he was a stud," Carlson said. "In the first quarter of our first game, he actually ended up breaking his rib. He went back in during the fourth quarter and ended up with a punctured lung. So his whole sophomore year, he didn't play again until the last game of the season, where he had three touchdowns. If he had played his whole sophomore year, his profile would have been through the roof."
Brown didn't receive his first Division I interest until the following summer, when he attended camps at Rutgers, Temple and Boston College and walked away with scholarship offers from all three.
That kicked off a year-long recruiting battle for his services, which ultimately ended Sept. 9 when Brown announced on Twitter that he had committed to Ohio State over the home-state Scarlet Knights.
His decision came just two days after he took an official visit for Ohio State's 42-7 victory against San Diego State on Sept. 7. It was not his first time visiting Ohio Stadium, as Brown was also in attendance for the Buckeyes' 26-21 win against Michigan last fall that clinched a perfect 12-0 record to cap off Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer's first season.
"I knew it was the right school for me when I was coming back from that most recent visit," Brown told BSB. "The coaches showed me a lot of love, and hanging out with the players was great. Just getting to know Coach Meyer a little bit more and getting to see how (wide receivers coach Zach) Smith teaches wide receivers and the stuff that he teaches them, I felt comfortable with them and the rest of the staff."
While he also considered Vanderbilt and Virginia Tech among his final four schools, the real battle came down to Ohio State and Rutgers. A pair of visits to Rutgers in mid-August demonstrated that the Scarlet Knights weren't a token home-state inclusion, but Brown's trip to Columbus helped the Buckeyes finish the job.
His commitment also came on the heels of the pledge of fellow mid-Atlantic four-star wide receiver Curtis Samuel of Brooklyn (N.Y.) Erasmus Hall, who issued his verbal Aug. 16. Rather than shy away from the eventual competition, Brown embraced it.
"You can't really get better if there's not people on the team that you have to beat out for a starting spot and push you every day in practice," he said. "That's definitely a positive for me. I'm looking forward to getting out there and working with them. We should be good, so I'm very excited about the competition on the team."
Brown said he never felt any pressure from people important to him to remain in the Garden State for college.
"Obviously, there's people all over talking and saying, ‘You should go there,' but within my support system it was really whatever decision I wanted," he said. "People have been great so far, just congratulating me and saying how proud they are of me. It's been a positive experience."
Carlson said he wasn't surprised by the way Brown navigated his way through his recruitment, citing his personality and maturity.
"He's our captain and he leads by example," the head coach said. "Some people think he's not having fun because he doesn't flash the big smile, but when he does, you see it and it lights up the room. He's a reserved type of kid. He's not the loudest or the most talkative in the room, but he'll say the right thing at the right time. He's a very mature, quiet and confident kid."
When he's not brightening rooms on those rare occasions, the 6-2, 215-pound Brown can often be found lighting up opposing defenses. In a preseason scrimmage this fall, he flashed a glimpse of the athleticism that made him so highly coveted. Playing against Elizabeth High School, Brown caught a pass and went streaking down the sideline before hurdling over a cornerback who had attempted to tackle him.
"The corner wasn't on his knees, he was getting ready for a tackle," Carlson said. "The whole place was just like, ‘What was that?' It was crazy."
Brown already has visions of making similar highlight-reel plays in Ohio Stadium. The wideout said coaches told him they plan to take advantage of his versatility by using him in a number of roles.
"They told me I can be used as a bigger receiver outside to create mismatches with a smaller corner or move me inside a little bit to create a mismatch with a linebacker speed-wise," Brown said. "And then they also want me to be a factor in the return game. They want to use all my skill sets, so I'm looking forward to that."
Carlson attributed his wide receiver's athleticism to his recent dedication in the weight room. He said that's a trend that will need to continue in order for Brown to make an impact while wearing the scarlet and gray.
"Going up to the next level, everyone has to get faster and stronger, all those types of things," Carlson said. "If he continues to do what he's done over the last 18 months, I anticipate a very successful career for him over there at Ohio State. Obviously, it's a prominent program and all the athletes are at another level, but with his work ethic and commitment he knows what he has to do to get to that level."
High School – Sparta (N.J.) Pope John XXIII
Position – Wide receiver
Height, Weight – 6-2, 215 pounds
Rankings – Scout.com rates Brown a four-star prospect and the No. 36 wide receiver in the 2014 class.
Player Evaluation – "If you look at what Urban Meyer wants to do offensively, you want a guy who can attack the defense from multiple spots on the field and get the ball in his hands multiple ways. That's what Noah can bring." – Scout.com recruiting analyst Brian Dohn
Strengths – "He catches the ball and turns and gets the ball upfield remarkably quick, and he's got tremendous speed when he gets going. He reshaped his body a lot in the offseason and got bigger and was actually able to increase his speed and quickness, as well." – Dohn
Weaknesses – "He does a lot of little things really well, but the thing that I want to see is, where is he going to grow as a player? He needs to fine-tune his technique and get out of breaks quicker." – Dohn