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Where's Charles Brown playing? This season it's cornerback for UNI football

Senior has gone from defense to offense and back to defense in collegiate career

Northern Iowa's Charles Brown (4) celebrates with wide receiver Daurice Fountain (10) after making a catch for a touchdown during the third quarter of the FCS playoff game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Northern Iowa's Charles Brown (4) celebrates with wide receiver Daurice Fountain (10) after making a catch for a touchdown during the third quarter of the FCS playoff game at the UNI-Dome in Cedar Falls on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR FALLS — The question seemed innocuous but genuinely flummoxed Charles Brown.

The Northern Iowa cornerback was asked earlier this week if his team was playing more man coverage in the secondary,

“I don’t know,” Brown said, after a brief pause.

He shouldn’t have known because he wasn’t a member of the secondary last season. Brown’s college career could best be described by spinning a wheel and seeing what position that spin ends up landing on.

As a freshman, that was defensive back. As a sophomore and junior, it was wide receiver.

This season, it’s defensive back again.

“It’s something I’ve kind of adjusted to,” Brown said. “I mean, I knew that I could get switched at any moment. That conversation was always kind of up in the air, so I’ve always been prepared for if I did get switched or not. It’s just something I’ve got to adjust to, I guess.”

The Fort Myers, Fla., resident has had to do a ton of adjusting. He red-shirted his first year in the Panthers program and played 11 games, with two starts, at corner in 2013.

A shortage at receiver forced him to the offensive side of the ball as a sophomore. He started five games.

It was 11 starts a season ago, when Brown was UNI’s second-leading pass catcher. He practiced all preseason at wideout, but got pulled aside by the coaching staff the week of the opening game against Iowa State and given some news.

“It was either Tuesday or Wednesday of that week,” Brown said. “It was like a sudden change. At first, I was like ‘Oh, this isn’t going to happen.’ Then it was like ‘Well, this is going to happen.’”

The consummate team player, Brown has never complained, just gone about his business.

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“I don’t prefer one over the other,” he said. “I remember coming in my freshman year, I was like ‘Coach, can I play offense?’ Coach, can I play both ways?’ I could never decide which one I liked better. It doesn’t matter to me.”

He said having the experience of playing wide receiver actually has helped him at corner. And vice versa.

“Hands down, yeah,” Brown said. “I felt like playing DB my freshman year helped a lot playing receiver my sophomore year. Now that I’m older and more experienced at playing the game, I feel like there are a lot of things I did as a receiver, a lot of things I’ve noticed from other receivers that can help me in my game as a corner.”

Northern Iowa (2-3) plays Saturday night at Youngstown State (4-1) in a key Missouri Valley Conference game. The Panthers are running out of margin for error if they want to qualify for the FCS playoffs in late November.

Part of the issue has been allowing too many big plays on defense. Brown knows that must stop.

“I get frustrated with myself but not with my teammates,” he said. “I feel like there are a lot of plays that I’ve given up that I should not have.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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