OXFORD, Ohio – Austin Brown has had to pack up his belongings and move at least five times already in his young life. Before he even turned 10 years old, he had visited Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic. And though it may seem like Miami University’s redshirt senior defensive lineman is quite the world traveler, such is the life when you grow up on a U.S. military base with parents who are serving our country.
Brown was born on a U.S. base in Virginia, but quickly moved to a U.S. base in Germany with his family around the age of four. It was during his time living overseas that he was able to travel to other countries in the region, even if he didn’t realize it at the time.
“I would say the biggest difference was the culture and everything,” Brown said of living in Germany. “At that age I didn’t really understand that we were in a foreign country and I didn’t understand the significance of it. But now looking back, we went to a lot of places over there and it was a real good experience because my parents made advantage of those experiences and I’m really thankful for that.”
Despite the perks of seeing parts of the world that most people never see in their lifetime, growing up with parents in the military can also lead to some unhappy childhood memories. Brown recalled getting into trouble as a youngster and having to write letters to teachers apologizing for misbehaving in class.
“My dad was a great father, still is to this day, but he doesn’t really take that much slack. It’s a ‘yes sir’ or ‘no sir’ type deal, and I’m glad I was raised that way, with yes ma’am, no ma’am,” Brown said of his father, Greg, who currently works at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, D.C. “It was a tiered system but it’s blessed me with a lot of opportunities so I’m grateful for that.”
After leaving Germany and returning to the United States with his family, Brown lived in several places over the next few years, including at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton and the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. While most kids would have been unhappy moving frequently, Brown found the positive in it.
“It wasn’t that difficult (to move) because that’s all I knew when I was younger, so until middle school I had to move every three years of my life,” Brown admitted. “So I have friends to this day, like when we played Army (in football) two years ago, my best friend played for Army. So I have pockets of friends in every region of the United States. It’s a blessing to see guys out of Texas that are like ‘I got friends that play college football down here’.”
Greg, and Austin’s mother, Laurie, who is now a social worker at Fort Myer across the river from Greg in Virginia, eventually settled in Woodbridge, Va., which Austin calls home. He lived there longer than any other place in his life and really started his football career in Woodbridge. In high school he led the Vikings to an undefeated season as a senior in 2008 and was a two-time team MVP. Brown also played baseball and competed in track and field at Woodbridge High.
“I think from the discipline standpoint it has, and the adversity,” Brown said of his military upbringing and its effect on his football success. “It’s probably helped me a lot, but I’m sure there are other guys out there too that had strict fathers and they helped along the way too.”
As his football skills started to shine, Brown gathered interest from Youngstown State in northeast Ohio. He was being recruited by then YSU defensive line coach Antoine Smith. But when Smith was hired as Miami’s defensive line coach in 2009, he tried to persuade Brown to come with him.
Having been used to changing locations his whole life, this was nothing new for Brown. And when he came to Oxford for his visit, he met former Miami running back Andre Bratton (’10), who also hails from Woodbridge and played with Brown’s older brother in high school. After chatting with Bratton, Brown was sold on where his next move would be.
Even with his strict childhood, Brown said the transition to college was an easy one.
“Towards high school, I was kind of on my own. My parents just kind of said ‘okay, go do your football thing and we’ll support you but you’ll kind of be on your own.’ So I have been on my own for a while in that aspect, but it hasn’t really been that much different,” he stated. “I think I know how to take care of myself a little better, like I know how to make my bed, and those types of things growing up, and being able to take care of myself like preparing meals, I was taught that at a young age so that’s carried over to now.”
After making a relatively easy adjustment to college life, Brown also made a smooth transition on the gridiron, as he started nine games as a freshman in 2009 when he made 40 tackles. His success continued the next two years as well, making 24 combined starts for the RedHawks as a sophomore and junior. He totaled 86 tackles, including 18.5 for loss, during his middle years in Oxford, and garnered Second-Team All-Mid-American Conference honors in 2010.
As his role on the field grew, so did it off the field. Brown served as a team captain as a sophomore and also on Miami’s RedHawk Council. He’s also currently on the football team’s Leadership Council.
“I think that ever since I was younger it’s always been that I’ve loved sports movies and being able to overcome something. I love being the underdog. I tell my teammates all the time, and just being able to prove people wrong, to make people open their eyes to the greater good and the other side of the story, which I would really like to do and see happen,” explained Brown of his leadership style. “So I think that when it comes to being a leader, you just stay positive-minded and come out with guns blazing, come out on fire and give it everything you’ve got.”
Unfortunately for both Miami and Brown, he was not able to give everything last year as a back injury sidelined him for all but the first two games of the season, despite serving as co-captain again. He took a medical redshirt for the season.
“It was very frustrating and hard to be at a leadership point and not be able to lead by example on the field, that was the toughest part,” Brown said of the injury. “And trying to stay positive-minded through the injury was really hard, but I got a couple calls from guys with words of encouragement that really helped me out.”
After lots of rehab and physical therapy with Dr. Mark Cristell and Dr. Stephen Dailey, Brown is anxious and chomping at the bit to get back on the field this upcoming fall. He says he’s 100 percent and knows the RedHawks have a lot to prove in his fifth and final season.
“I mean 4-8, we’re not happy with that, and I don’t think anybody on our staff or the players are happy with that, so we’ve hit the weights and hit the running this summer and keep that in mind,” Brown expressed. “We aren’t doing this again. We’re not going back; we’re going forward so I think that’s our mindset -- going forward.”
One bright spot for Brown last school year was that he completed his bachelor’s degree in kinesiology in May. He is now working towards his master’s degree in kinesiology at Miami while using up his final year of eligibility. He’s not in any hurry to move away from Miami, that’s for sure.
“I like everything, the people, the places up here. It has a small-town feel with a big-town atmosphere, and vice versa, so it’s beautiful,” Brown said of Miami. “It’s quiet when it needs to be quiet, and it’s loud when it needs to be loud. You get all types of people coming through here, like exchange students, you get to meet so many different types of people and that’s what makes it unique.”
Like most college football players, Brown’s ultimate goal is to play in the National Football League (NFL). But if that doesn’t work out, he has multiple back-up plans. He wants to finish his master’s after the 2013 season and would really like to get into college coaching.
Of course with his upbringing and coming from a military family, Brown isn’t ruling out following in his parents footsteps either. His grandfather served as a buffalo solider while he’s had numerous cousins and uncles serve in the U.S. military as well.
“If the NFL doesn’t work out then I would love to go into the military,” Brown explained. “My best friends are in the Air Force, my cousin’s in the Air Force, another one of my family friends just came back from overseas and he’s getting into some military things, so all roads kind of lead to there. I would go Army for sure.”
Whatever profession Brown ends up in, it doesn’t appear his frequent traveling and moving is about to stop anytime soon. That should be just fine with him. He wouldn’t know any different.
Come see Austin and the rest of the RedHawks football team this season as Miami competes for a MAC championship. Be sure to purchase your season tickets today, which are available online here or by calling 513-529-HAWK (4295). The RedHawks open the season at Marshall Aug. 31 and host rival Cincinnati in their home opener in the “Battle for the Bell” Sept. 21.