Tuscaloosa native gets his chance to shine at MSU
By Josh Cooper
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The storyline was picture perfect for Mississippi State.
A local boy comes home and beats a team he grew up idolizing, showing that it shouldn't have passed him up.
That could hold true for Bulldogs coach Sylvester Croom, a Tuscaloosa native and former Alabama player who finished second to Mike Shula in Alabama's hunt for a head football coach in 2003.
But the story also refers to Tuscaloosa native Titus Brown, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive end for MSU who often found himself in the Alabama backfield in the Bulldogs' 24-16 victory last season, finishing with two tackles, one sack and two quarterback hurries.
That game was a chance for him to show the former Tide coaching staff that he could play football at a high level. Alabama showed interest in Brown when he was coming out of Hillcrest High, but the Crimson Tide never offered a scholarship.
"I played with a little chip on my shoulder against Alabama," Brown said. "It's showing them that I can play with anybody in the SEC — that I am a football player and I need to be respected. That's my whole motto about that."
Brown and his Bulldogs (5-4, 2-3 SEC) will play host to No. 21 Alabama (6-3, 4-2) on Saturday, and entering the game, Brown is tied with the Tide's Wallace Gilberry for second in the SEC in sacks with seven.
For Brown, last year's game was more than a happy homecoming — it was the completion of a transition that started in 2005, Brown's sophomore year.
At that point, he was one of those in-between players. He was recruited as a linebacker, but Croom knew Brown's football future would be at defensive end. If it wasn't at end, it definitely was in some sort of pass-rushing capacity.
Brown made the switch in the spring of that year, , but it took time for him to think of himself as an end.
"About midseason last year, he was holding out hope that he would be back at linebacker," Croom said.
By the time State played Alabama, that hope faded, and Brown understood his skill could make him a good defensive end.
While he didn't post huge numbers against Alabama, Brown anchored a solid defensive front for State that dominated the line of scrimmage. State tackled Alabama behind the line five times, and gave up only 101 rushing yards.
"I think it was (my best game) last year as far as disrupting the plays and stuff like that," Brown said. "I think it was my best game as far as running to the ball, penetrating, making the QB move and stuff like that. It was a pretty intense game for me."
Last season's game acted as a springboard, not just for Brown, but also for the Bulldogs' team, which enters this year's game sitting on the cusp of bowl eligibility. MSU needs only one more win.
As a senior, Brown's next move will be toward the NFL. As someone who coached pro football, Croom said he sees Brown as the kind of player who can perform at multiple positions in the NFL.
"A lot of guys like him because he is still kind of a hybrid player. He can stand up and be an outside linebacker, but he can also rush the passer," Croom said. "There isn't any question he can get the opportunity, and he will do very well when he does."
For Brown, the NFL is still down the road. He said he is concentrating on the next opponent this week. And because it's Alabama, he's concentrating a little harder.
"A team that did not offer me a scholarship when I was being recruited by them and let me know that I wasn't good enough to play for them — that is my own self-rivalry," Brown said.
Alabama at Miss. State
Five things you might not know about Mississippi State
Mississippi State’s coaching staff has two similarities to last year’s Alabama staff. Charlie Harbison, who used to coach the Tide’s receivers, is the Bulldogs’ safeties coach. David Turner, who spent last year at Alabama, is Mississippi State’s defensive line coach.
Fifteen Mississippi State players are from the state of Alabama.
Mississippi State quarterback Wesley Carroll is two pass attempts shy from setting the NCAA freshman record for attempts without an interception to start a career at 138. Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State’s 40-year-old head coach, holds the record.
The Bulldogs have not made a bowl game since 2000 and at 5-4 are one win away from bowl eligibility.
Mississippi State has a 4-13 record in morning televised games since 2001.
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