UNI football: Brown grows into tackle position for Panthers

Spencer Brown

CEDAR FALLS — As Spencer Brown walked down the concrete path from Northern Iowa’s lockerroom and into Jack Trice Stadium last Saturday, he had a surreal experience.

Nerves started to creep up on Brown at the sight of 65,000 fans. It was a bit overwhelming considering that number was approximately 60 times the number of residents in Brown’s hometown of Lenox in southwest Iowa.

Fortunately, Panther head coach Mark Farley was standing nearby and he and Brown had a good laugh at the freshman’s nervousness.

“He said, ‘There is no better place to be,’” Brown recalled. “I was like, ‘Coach this is a little different than Friday night in eight-man where there are a few hundred fans and there are thousands here.’

“It was fun to joke about it and lighten up the situation for me. It was funny.”

Making his first career start, Brown held his own against a vastly improved Iowa State defensive line.

“He played very well for playing in his first game at tackle,” Farley said. “That is going against good players, a good line that he did well. He’s a young player with a lot of upside and a lot of growth he can make in the game to game, let alone year to year.”

Growth is a key factor in Brown’s rapid rise up the depth chart.

He was recruited as a tight end, but at 6-foot-8, Brown had heard that eventually he’d be asked to move to tackle or potentially defensive end where as a high school senior he recorded 67 tackles, 17 of them sacks.

The conversation to move to tackle took place after last season and Brown, who weighed 235 when he got to Cedar Falls, bought in, becoming a frequent visitor to the dining hall at UNI as well as Jed Smith’s weight room.

When Brown reported back to preseason camp, he came in at 290.

“He bought into being an offensive lineman and put on great weight,” Farley said. “Not just weight, but good weight.”

Brown said he drank lots of chocolate milk, ate pizza and something he likes to call a “loaded” salad. Meanwhile, he pumped iron.

“Salads are supposed to be healthy, but I added some things like extra croutons and ranch,” smiled Brown. “I had to get my carbs.”

Brown’s development throughout camp allowed UNI to tinker with its offensive line as the Panthers moved 13-game right tackle starter Bryce Sweeney to right guard to open a spot for Brown at tackle.

As for his first start, Brown said he was okay, but he knows he can be a lot better.

“I’d say decent,” he said of his play. “There is still a lot of work to put in to be a really good player. That is my goal.

“I know in the back of my mind I made some bad plays, I made some decent ones, but I want to make good plays every play. There were times out there I needed to slow down. I was all antsy and worked up and flying all over the place, which means I need to slow down.”

While he dressed for every home game last year as a redshirt freshman and ran out of the garage door at the UNI-Dome, Brown is looking forward to playing his first game on the Panthers’ home field.

While his Lenox High School teams won district titles, the team never made it to the Dome in the playoffs, although Brown was inside the Dome in 2010 with the Lenox state runner-up team, just in a different capacity.

“I was the waterboy. I was little guy back then,” Brown smiled. “I’m real excited to play Saturday.”