CEDAR FALLS — Coming from Minneapolis North, a smaller Class 2A high school in Minnesota, Northern Iowa freshman Omar Brown played wide receiver, running back, special teams and cornerback.
Despite his high school not playing the biggest schools or toughest competition, UNI coaches liked what they saw in Brown as a cornerback. So much so that only halfway through his first fall camp in August, head coach Mark Farley wasn’t shy in his praise.
“Omar Brown will contribute,” Farley said in mid-August. “And what I like about Omar, man, he comes out here (to practice) he listens, he learns, he doesn’t talk. He doesn’t tell us how good he is he just goes out and produces everyday. Those kinds of guys make it.”
Brown said the relationship he was able to establish with UNI’s staff ultimately became the reason he chose the Panthers and his mom made sure to pass along his head coach’s compliments from camp.
“My mom actually sent it to me and she’s just like, ‘keep going hard, don’t stop,’” Brown said. “She knows I’m a humble person, (and) it’s playing a game so not getting respect or getting too cocky or my ego being big or none of that (happens). It’s playing a game. I love the sport. I love competing.”
Brown’s emergence in fall camp gave Farley and defensive coordinator Jeremiah Johnson the confidence to continue their experiment from spring practice with all-conference cornerback Xavior Williams moving to safety.
When UNI opened the 2019 season a month ago against Iowa State, it was Brown lined up at left cornerback and Williams at safety. That personnel alignment has proven to be productive through three games.
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Brown leads UNI with two interceptions, is second on the team with three pass break-ups and his 24 tackles are fourth-best. He says he’s focused on improving his technique and being mentally locked in on every play as teammates and coaches have told him that opponents will go after him because he’s a freshman.
“I’m very pleased with Omar,” Farley said. “They’ve gone after him and he’s held up. His production — we call it a production grade — his production grade is when the play is at you and you need to make that play, are you making that play? And his production grade has been very good for the amount of times he’s been attacked on the football field. We have to make sure we continue to teach and find errors before he’s exposed.”
While many of the challenges that have come his way have been answered, Brown got his first “welcome to college football” moment against the Cyclones.
“Iowa State game, when the running back came and I got low and he hurdled me,” Brown said. “Like, he just jumped over me and I’ve never been hurdled in my life. So, it was like, ‘whoa.’ That kind of shocked me because I used to do that in high school and if you did that in high school you were really good.”
Brown and the ninth-ranked Panthers travel to No. 5 Weber State for a 7 p.m. kick Saturday at Stewart Stadium in Ogden, Utah.