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Druley: Geneva grad Brown retools college plans

Recent Geneva graduate Kyle Brown gave up his scholarship at NCAA Division II Central Missouri to pursue a preferred walk-on opportunity at Pittsburgh.
Recent Geneva graduate Kyle Brown gave up his scholarship at NCAA Division II Central Missouri to pursue a preferred walk-on opportunity at Pittsburgh.

Recent Geneva graduate Kyle Brown reversed course about 12 hours after his mom’s Honda Acura did.

Presumably solid with NCAA Division II Central Missouri State as his college football destination last winter, the prospective wide receiver decided to pursue a preferred walk-on opportunity at Pittsburgh instead.

Brown reported to campus for early workouts in late June. On Aug. 4, his 18th birthday, he’ll open two-a-day fall practices intent on solidifying a spot with the Panthers almost six months after a conflicted overnight commute to campus with his family.

“Just being here and seeing the guys and competing with the guys I’m competing with, I really feel like I made the right decision, definitely,” Brown said. “Not a doubt in my mind that I’m where I should be right now. I think I have a very good chance of competing here.”

At a national signing day ceremony in February, the 6-foot-4, 214-pound Brown discussed his decision to commit to Central Missouri on a playing-time platform. He figured his cleats could roam the Mules’ Vernon Kennedy Field sooner than they would the Panthers’ Heinz Field, home of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers.

Besides, Pitt had only solidified its offer within a few days of signing day, giving Brown little time to process what he was turning down – the chance to play Division-I football.

“It’s always been in my heart and in my mind that I wanted to play at this level. And I felt like I was maybe trying to settle into D-II. I was trying to convince myself that I’d be happy there,” he said. “But then when it came down to it, it truly was just a great academic opportunity that Pittsburgh had to offer.

“It’s a fantastic university, and once I got down here and saw all the buildings, the whole city of Pittsburgh, it was a night and day difference between the rural and the urban settings, and I just felt like I was going to fit in a lot better.”

In arguably their most seminal family drive to date, Brown and his parents, Kevin and Kim, traveled from CMU’s Warrensburg, Mo., campus to Pittsburgh on the Sunday night of Presidents Day weekend.

At that point, Kim Brown had not seen CMU – she was out of town on business during her son’s only campus visit – and the holiday weekend offered a convenient chance.

As the trio hopped back into the Acura about 8 p.m., Kim Brown looked at her phone and determined the family could either drive eight hours home or 12 hours to Pittsburgh.

The Iowa State alumna wasn’t assailing higher education in the heartland as much as she was stumping for informed decisions.

There was a difference between a city collegiate setting and a rural one, she remembers telling her son. Kim Brown cited her husband, a former Wisconsin quarterback in the 1980s, as the contrasting example.

“One’s not better than another, but they’re different, and you need to see those before you decide which one’s right for you,” she said.

The Browns arrived in Pittsburgh on President’s Day morning and were granted early check-in at a Hampton Inn. They got themselves cleaned up and headed for campus, joining a random student tour. Kyle Brown did not see any football facilities nor meet with any coaches. He couldn’t speak with them, anyway, as a CMU commit.

Dialogue became much easier when Brown decommitted weeks later. He called the Mules’ staff “for the most part ... pretty understanding,” and especially appreciated the candor of offensive coordinator Josh Lamberson, with whom he had developed an early rapport.

“When I told him, he completely understood the opportunity and basically kind of let me know that he thought I was going to do just fine moving forward,” Brown said. “That was nice to have the reassurance from him on that end.”

The affirmations didn’t stop when Brown came to Pittsburgh. For starters, he’s among a handful of preferred walk-ons who were invited to campus early. The rest of that group will arrive in August.

Brown also has had preliminary talks with Panthers coaches about the possibility of shifting to tight end down the road as he puts on more weight.

Those are the things that make Brown feel he’s progressing into a valued part of the program. There are others – such as meeting Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, whose team shares parts of its facility with Pitt – that suggest he’s already arrived.

Thinking that for any length of time isn’t realistic, Brown knows, although he does allow himself to look forward just a tad. If turning 18 is a rite of passage to manhood, what is turning 18 on the opening day of your first college football tryout?

“That’ll be another interesting experience,” Brown said. “I’m pretty excited for it.”

He had reason for optimism in central Missouri. He’s overflowing with it in western Pennsylvania.

Eagles’ Wikie takes helm: Burney Wilkie offers Aurora Christian plenty of continuity as its next girls basketball coach.

The 31-year-old served as Jerry Tokars’ assistant before Tokars stepped down at the end of 2013-14 and also is an ACS alumnus whose father is the school’s scoreboard and scorebook icon.

Now, the four-year assistant turns is attention to keeping the program on the rise. The Eagles have won the first two girls basketball regional titles in school history the past two seasons.

• Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.

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