Brown’s transition symbolizes Hilltopper dedication to defense

Vanderbilt Commodores wide receiver Kris Kentera, #82, spins away from Western Kentucky Hilltoppers defensive back Joe Brown, #7, during WKU’s 14-12 win Thursday at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn.

Jonah Phillips

When Louisville sophomore Joe Brown graduated from Butler High School and made his way to the Hill, he came into the program as a bit of a wild card.  

He appeared in nine games in 2014 mostly on special teams, but he had been practicing positionally as a running back. Without his spot solidified in the offense, Brown continued to make plays both as a returner and gunner on the special teams squad. 

Tonight’s game versus Louisiana Tech marks several unique anniversaries for Brown. 

Last season as a freshman, Brown returned five kickoffs for 139 yards.  Two of those returns came against Louisiana Tech for a combined 59 yards.

While Brown managed to find glimmers of success in a game where WKU was blown out 59-10 last season, the game arguably marked a much more important milestone for Brown. 

This marked the first game that Brown officially transitioned to a defensive back. Up to that point, Brown had only managed one run for one yard on the season. But Brown wasn’t as enthusiastic to be a part of the defense as he is now.  

“I can’t lie—I was in love with the offense when I came here,” Brown said. “I loved the offense, so when coach Brohm came and spoke to me about it, at first I was on the fence.”

It wasn’t until Brown could visibily see the impact he was making on his team as a whole that he completely embraced the switch to defense. 

“Once I started to get the hang of it, I got the opportunity to play a lot … and play a really big role for the team,” Brown said. “I just went from there.”

Now as a sophomore, Brown is still acclimating to the defensive side of the ball, but he has already made a big argument for a starting spot in the Hilltopper secondary. 

He made the game-winning tackle in the open field on a Vanderbilt two-point conversion attempt, sealing his team the victory. 

While his open-field tackle in the closing moments of the game was impressive, it was a combination of athleticism and preparedness that allowed Brown to be in the right spot at the right time. 

Senior captain linebacker Nick Holt said post-game the play Vanderbilt ran was one WKU was expecting to see in that sort of yardage situation. 

“On the two-point conversion, their big tight end … came really flat. We were in man to man, so … I knew from the get-go that I was going to just edge it off,” Brown said. “I knew he was going to throw it, and I just wanted to make a big play for my team.”

Whether he’s on the special teams or on the defense, Brown is looking to make as big an impact as possible.  He shows this mentality through his dedication to the transition from offense to defense and his excitement with his team’s display against Vanderbilt. 

“This means a lot to my team. We wanted to come down here and make a statement,” Brown said. “[The defense has] been hearing a lot about last year, and we wanted to let everyone know that this is a new team—a better and improved team.”