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‘It’s Been a Hell of a Ride’: PSU S Brown Finishing up Successful College Career

Penn State Nittany Lions safety Ji'Ayir Brown (16) November 12, 2022 David Hague/NSN

The future of Penn State football is bright, and if things go well, coach James Franklin’s team could find itself in the College Football Playoff sooner than people think.

In that sense, Penn State fans are waiting for 2022 to end because that means 2023 is closer, and people are already looking forward to what the future holds.

The exciting young players— Nick Singleton, Kaytron Allen, Abdul Carter, Drew Allar and more— will be older and, presumably, better.

Could Penn State be a national title contender at this time next year? Maybe. It will be exciting to find out.

But one of the downsides of 2022 ending is that once it ends, so does Ji’Ayir Brown’s Penn State career.

Brown has two regular-season games and a bowl game left of eligibility. He has one game left in a Beaver Stadium. When Brown leaves, Penn State will be without a captain and leader who sets an example by demanding the most from himself.

Penn State’s had a good year, and as long as it beats Rutgers (4-6) on the road and Michigan State (5-5) at home on Senior Day, it will finish the regular-season undefeated for the first time since 2019, when Brown was still at Lackawanna Community College. It’s a good season, but Brown expected more, namely a playoff berth.

Individually, Brown leads the team with three interceptions and 55 total tackles (41 solo), also adding four passes defended and a forced fumble.

According to Pro Football Focus, Brown’s played 487 snaps for Penn State this season, which is the most of any Nittany Lion defender.

Not bad for a kid who nobody besides Montclair State offered out of high school.

Still, Brown always wants more.

“If he had 10 interceptions right now,” Penn State coach Franklin said in his weekly press conference Tuesday, “I think he would still be disappointed. “It’s just kind of how he’s wired. He’s very driven. Very competitive.”

Brown doesn’t have 10 interceptions this year, but he does have nine over the past two seasons and tied for the national lead last with six in 2021. Besides being a takeaway threat, Brown can play close to the line of scrimmage. One hundred thirty-six of his snaps are either on the D-Line (102) or in the box (34) per PFF.

Yes, Brown is quite the player, but he always wants more.

“Some may say it’s a bit crazy,” Brown told reporters via Zoom Tuesday, “but I believe I can do anything as a player.”

In might have been impossible for Brown to meet his sky-high personal expectations, and Penn State won’t be in the Playoff as he hoped.

But Brown has enough sense to enjoy what he and Penn State have accomplished through 10 games this season and is excited for what it could do the rest of the way.

“As a team, though, we definitely reached beyond expectations of everybody else around us,” Brown said. “But I don’t think we’re done with our season yet. We’re going to finish out strong. But we all had expectations of being in the college playoffs.

“Unfortunately, those chances are slim, but it’s been a hell of a year for the guys. I definitely appreciate everything that’s been going on this year and how we executed this year and how we played together and grew as a family.”

Brown is one of the leaders of Penn State’s family.

Back when only Montclair State was offering him, Brown one day becoming a captain at Penn State seemed about as good as Jack Sparrow’s.

“Four years ago, I didn’t even know where I was going to school at,” Brown said. “I knew I was a good player. I knew I could play on any stage, but I didn’t know how I was going to get there or where it was going to be at.”

Brown grinded in JUCO for two years, then got a chance to play at Penn State. He’s progressed from contributor to starter and, finally, to one of Penn State’s best players.

The man known as “Tig” has a lot of be proud of, and he knows it.

“Coming to Penn State, I have grown in ways that I didn’t know I was going to grow in,” Brown said. “I got bigger, stronger, faster. I look a lot different from when I played in high school.”

Brown also plays a different position than he expected to way back when.

“I’m a defensive player now. I always thought I was going to grow up to be an offensive player,” Brown said with a smile. “Quarterback or wide receiver or something.”

He’s a defensive player, and a darn good one. Good enough, in fact, that he’ll almost surely be selected in 2023’s NFL Draft, possibly within the first two rounds.

For now, Brown is focused on finishing out his time at Penn State. He’ll be playing in his home state this Saturday— Piscataway is less than an hour from Trenton, where Brown is from— before family and friends. The next week’s game will be his last in Beaver Stadium.

Brown is excited for the future, but at the same time, he wants his run at Penn State to last as long as possible.

“I’m just trying to slow these last two weeks down,” Brown said. “It’s been a hell of a ride here at Penn State, and you never want to see it come to an end. But nothing lasts forever. I’m just trying to slow time down as much as possible. I knew this moment was going to come. I knew this time of year was going to come. I just wanted to be ready for it as much as possible. It’s been a blessing. It’s a bit of a bittersweet moment for me. But time moves on. People move on, and my time is coming to an end.”

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