Army stint helped Temple's Brown turn his life around

Posted: September 06, 2011

Morkeith Brown can talk about his old life as if he's describing someone else.

"I had a lot of growing up to do," said Brown, a cocaptain on Temple's football team. "I was having a lot of fun and didn't take things serious."

The Harrisburg native was immature, lazy, and somewhat of a knucklehead, he said. At Central Dauphin East High School, he was a so-so football player and a worse student.

But after serving in the Army, followed by a short-lived job at Pepsi and a brief stint in junior college, Brown is now the pride of the Owls. The 26-year-old, who has senior eligibility, received his bachelor's degree in criminal justice in May and is enrolled as a non-matriculated graduate student.

On the field, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound defensive end is one of Temple's better players. He finished with a sack, two tackles, and a forced a fumble in Thursday's 42-7 victory over Villanova.

"Who I was before and who I am now are two totally different people," said Brown, who wants to be a positive role model for his 4-year-old son, Dawyson Manning-Brown. "My mom is very happy. My [four younger] brothers are very proud of me.

"I try to be a good example for them to let them know that it is never too late to be able to do something."

An unthinkable loss

Now that he's recognized for his work ethic, it's hard to imagine Brown as a slacker. But that's exactly what happened after his uncle, Keith Brown, was killed in a motorcycle accident Sept. 6, 2001. Brown's I-don't-care-about-anything attitude was a result, he said, of losing the closest person to him outside of his mother, Tina Irvin.

To know anything about the Brown family is to know it is close-knit. It's so close that when Brown was born, Tina's brothers, Keith and Morris Brown, both wanted her first born to carry their first name. She settled on naming her son Morkeith after both brothers.

It didn't take long before Morkeith forged a bond with his uncles. In Keith, Brown had the father figure he desired since his biological father was absent. A standout football player, Keith played at North Carolina State and in the Canadian Football League.

So naturally, it was Keith who introduced Morkeith to tackle football when his nephew was just 6 years old.

Morkeith said he confided his in uncle about everything. That's why Keith's death still hurts more than any block Morkeith has taken on the football field.

"He pretty much had total control of me besides my mom," Brown says. "When he was gone, I sort of acted out."

Once his uncle passed, Brown stopped taking his schoolwork and athletics seriously. Seeing potential, his coaches at Central Dauphin East tried to motivate him. But they would have had more success talking to a blackboard.

As far as Brown was concerned, they weren't his uncle. And their opinions didn't matter. Lacking solid study habits, Brown just got by in the classroom. But deep down, he still hoped to follow in Keith's football footsteps.

But national signing day came and went during his senior year. No one came with an offer. And even if he had received an offer, Brown wouldn't have played as a freshman in college. He didn't have the required SAT score for freshman eligibility.

So, tired of seeing her son slack off, Irvin made him enlist in the Army.

"I always said to him, 'You will go to college or in the Army,' " Irvin said. "You have no other choice. That's the two choices you have."

The best move for him

Being pushed into the service was the start of the positive transformation for Brown. He was stationed at Fort Polk in Louisiana after basic combat training and advanced individual training. He was assigned to the 546th Maintenance Company, which at the time was led by a no-nonsense sergeant, Marchelo Taylor.

"When he came to me as a young solder straight from AIT, he was very young and immature," said Taylor, who recently retired after 22 years of service. "He appeared to be very arrogant, a cocky young kid."

But Taylor, who went to high school with Brown's basic training sergeant, took a liking to him.

"I watched him very closely," Taylor said. "And taught him the right way to do things.

Knowing that Brown possessed leadership qualities, Taylor kept assigning him tasks. Gradually, Brown developed into one of the company's leaders, especially when it deployed to Afghanistan for a 14-month combat tour in 2005.

"That's where it hit him," Taylor said. "That's where he grew and matured a lot."

The time away in Afghanistan allowed Brown to revisit his childhood goals. He spoke of getting the college degree his mother and Uncle Keith always wanted him to have.

And with the nudging of his friends in the Army, Brown also planned to pursue his dream of playing college football.

"We had a lot of basketball tournaments and football tournaments," said Brown, who did not want to detail his combat experiences. "Everybody kept asking me why am I in the service. I was like, 'I need to get my mind right.' They were like. 'You need to get out of here the first chance you can get.' "

Brown did what his Army buddies told him.

Saving up all his leave time, he was able to get out of the Army after three years. Once he got back to Harrisburg, Brown worked briefly as a forklift driver at Pepsi before enrolling at Lackawanna College in spring 2007.

At the junior college, he worked out with the school's team during offseason conditioning. Brown, however, wasn't there long enough to play in a game. That's because, with his mother's financial support, Brown participated in a college combine in Chicago.

He impressed recruiters and came away with four scholarship offers, He ultimately chose Temple over Central Michigan, but Brown was forced to sit out the 2007 season for not meeting the academic requirements needed to play as a freshman.

"When he came in, I never saw a guy so determined and so focused," said former Temple linebacker Tommie Weatherspoon, one of Brown's best friends.

Weatherspoon said it didn't matter that his former Owls roommate had to sit out his first year. It was obvious he would eventually make up for his time away from football.

"He was doing everything other than playing games," Weatherspoon said. "He would work out with us. "While we were on the football field practicing, he was doing a lot of conditioning. So he was getting the mental reps."

Because of that, none of his teammates questioned the motivations of a then-21-year-old making a comeback to football.

"The initial impression was, 'Look how big this guy is,' " said Bruce Francis, a former Temple wideout. "I felt that he could be an asset to the team."

A true team player

The mental reps prepared him for the 2008 season, and Brown played in 10 games, with seven starts at defensive end. He had two tackles and returned a fumble 17 yards for a touchdown in the season-opening 35-7 victory over Army.

But that was one of Brown's few highlights that season. After that eight-tackle season, Brown lost his starting spot in 2009. And by midseason, he was switched to tight end, where Brown started nine games last season.

"I didn't like it," Brown said of the switch. "But I did it because our team needed a big blocking tight end. And I helped out wherever we were lacking. And I like winning. So I figured why not?"

His unquestioned dedication to the program was noticed shortly after Steve Addazio took over as coach from Al Golden in December. In Brown, the new coaches saw someone who could excel opposite all-Mid-American Conference defensive end Adrian Robinson in their defensive scheme.

"I love it," Brown said of moving back to defense. "I get to use my aggression. I get to just be myself on defense. You can't be yourself on offense."

In addition to seeing his aggressive side, the new coaches came to view him as a solid team leader.

"He's a young man that's really grown up," said Chuck Heater, the Owls defensive coordinator. "He's the first one to admit that all those experiences helped to bring him to where he is. So that gives us a really mature individual that provides a lot of leadership."

This is just what Uncle Keith envisioned. He never wanted Brown to settle for just being one of the top players on a team. Keith expected him to become a leader.

"Keith would be very proud of him," Irvin said.

Just like Taylor is proud of his former soldier.

"He set the standard," said Taylor. "We [in the Army] don't accept the standard. We are going to be the standard."


Contact staff writer Keith Pompey at 215-854-2939, kpompey@phillynews.com,

or @pompeysgridlock.

Read his blog "Owls Inq,"

at www.philly.com/owlsinq. View the videos "Owls Insider with Steve Addazio,"

at www.philly.com/Owlsinsider.

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