"I found Derrick, he was sitting in between the bleachers eating Krispy Kreme donuts, and I said, 'Derrick, what are you doing? You know we got practice.' He said, 'Coach G, I'm not gonna play football anymore. I'm done with football."
We all have a breaking point. Whether it's in relationships, activities, etc. Physically, mentally and spiritually, it exists. It is there. We all try our best to never reach those points. Whether it's the situations we put ourselves in or even our mindset on how we approach something. We always try to stay as far away from that point as possible.
It's the point of the emotions we hate to feel: stress, anxiety, anger, regret, helplessness, hopelessness. One or more of these can all be present at a breaking point. But even if you reach them, those don't have to be the last emotions you feel.
A breaking point is just that; it's something that forces you to make a decision one way or the other. It's something that doesn't allow whatever path you were on to continue. It makes you go left or right -- straight on the old path is no longer an option.
When Derrick Brown found himself between the bleachers of Lanier High with a box of donuts in his hand, that was his breaking point. It was also where a future 5-star recruit was truly born.
"You know what, once you start something... you're going to finish it." - Martha Brown, Derrick's mother
Brown's lethargic attitude towards football stemmed from his childhood. As an elementary kid, family stories are told of Brown being picked on at school -- despite being about double the size of everyone in his class. When Brown described how he felt when he was bullied as a kid, he said that it made him more sad than mad. He even recalled a time where one of his classmates threw his band instrument in the bushes and he just went over and got it. He didn't yell at the offender or get in his face. He just went and picked it up. Brown didn't have a drive. He didn't have a passion. He didn't have a fight back. He didn't stand for anything, not even himself. So it was easy to tip him over.
Brown's mother talked about how those passive feelings after being picked on rooted her son's poor attitude towards football. Though many people saw a ton of potential in him, Brown did not share in their excitement. His mother even said that football was something he could do on Fridays so that he could have snacks on Saturdays.
But one day Brown decided snacks weren't enough -- well, he decided with the help of his mother practically bringing him back to practice by the ear after he told his coach he quit.
That was his breaking point.
Brown knew his mother was right. After his coach confronted him at his breaking point, the light came on. Martha, Derrick's mother, went on to say that the following year, as he was transitioning into a sophomore in high school, Derrick came to the realization that he really could have any opportunity he wanted through football if he just put forth his best.
Three years and five stars later, Brown was one of the most coveted recruits in the country. At 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, Brown was everything you'd want from an interior defensive lineman from a physical standpoint. His raw power and speed -- he benches more than 400 pounds and squats just under 600 -- pops out at you from the moment you press play on the tape. As a staple of the Auburn Tigers defense over the last few years, he has recorded 115 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, nine sacks, four pass breakups, three forced fumbles and even a blocked kick in 34 career games.
So just how far has Brown come since his breaking point? Let's take a look.
Play No. 1: A Gifted Player
Brown’s mother wasn’t kidding when she said that he had everything he needed to be successful. At 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, to be able to get off the snap, recognize what the blocking concept is and where it is going and to be able to swim move your guy to the ground like that? That is so impressive.
I couldn’t care less that Brown didn’t end up with that tackle on that play. We saw translatable skills that can go straight into a pass rush on that play, and that was very encouraging right off the bat.
Play No. 2: Splittin’ Doubles
Let’s start to take some of those traits we saw above and translate them into some backfield disruption.
In the first play, Brown showed a great jump off the snap when he got into the offensive lineman before her performed his swim move. On the play directly above, Brown showed that good first step explosiveness again, but this time to get up the field. Brown has a good eye for the weak spot in potential double teams. If you’re not tight in your blocking alignments, there’s a good chance Brown is going to be able to see it and jump it.
Having an eye for penetrating double teams is a very useful skill. It’s something guys like Aaron Donald do well in the NFL, and part of what made Quinnen Williams the No. 3 overall pick.
Play No. 3: Leverage Lapses
Derrick Brown is so talented that sometimes he doesn’t even need proper technique to win. But there are a handful of times each game where I see him be not as technical as he should and it costs him or his team.
Brown has a tendency to just pop straight up when he’s coming off the line of scrimmage. He gives up leverage far too often. I get that it’s hard for a guy that big to stay that low, but when you pop straight up you give offensive linemen the chance to get under your arms, and then you start to give them control. When you do that, even if Brown gets good initial push on you, you can anchor him.
I need Brown to stay low more often.
Play No. 4: Bully Ball
Man, there are some clips, like the one above, where Brown is just a bully. Brown’s mother said that Derrick used to get bullied in elementary school despite being the biggest one. Well, it appears the tables have turned.
After the day where Brown said he was going to quit the high school football team — Brown’s breaking point — his mother dragged him out to practice and told him he was going to finish what he started. His high school coach said that next practice was the best practice he’s ever seen from Brown.
Breaking points can make you fed up. But being fed up can also be motivating. Plays like the one above show that. Brown, playing as a left defensive end, looked like the quarterback had pushed down his grandmother the way he was relentlessly rushing towards him.
A big man with a reason to move is a scary thing.
Play No. 5: Motor Runs Hot
Ever since that breaking point, Brown’s motor has been hotter than the donuts he was eating. That sack above took a lot of work from Brown. He didn’t beat his lineman off the jump. In fact, he even popped up way too early again made life more difficult than it has to be. But Brown kept working, kept pushing, kept churning. And when he broke free, he didn’t even hesitate to go full Superman to get the tackle.
Nowadays Brown is the bully -- in football terms, of course. At his size with his gifts, Brown can impose his will on almost any offensive lineman in the SEC. To many, he's been regarded as one of the Top 10 players, not just in the conference, but in the entire draft class. His path to that started as a dejected kid underneath the bleachers, and has since formed a path of self-respect, pride and a passion to be the best he can be with the gifts he's been given -- as a player and a person.
Everyone has a breaking point. Sometimes you never want to reach it. Derrick Brown should be glad he did. Because the player he became afterwards is very likely going to be one of the most sought after prospects in the 2020 NFL Draft.