Rico Brown completes transition from offense to defense

WKU’s Rico Brown chases after Morgan State’s Nate Ingram during their game at Western Kentucky University on Saturday, September 21, 2013. 

Elliott Pratt

Many things have changed in the last year for football at WKU. An entire new coaching staff has taken over, a new offensive system has been installed and a new attitude has taken over the Topper football program.

Players have had to make adjustments with all the changes. Sophomore Tyler Higbee, for instance, is in his first year at the tight end position, after spending previous years as a wide receiver.

No player has had to make as drastic changes as redshirt junior Rico Brown, though — he’s not even on the same side of the ball this year.

Brown spent the last three years as a wide receiver — he helped WKU with 13 catches for 195 yards, most notably his 70-yard reception in the first offensive play of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

This season, Brown is trying to catch passes in a different direction as a defensive back. It’s a new role the coaches believe Brown could fill nicely to help best suit the team.

“I had some experience in high school playing defense,” Brown said. “Some of the veterans like (fellow defensive backs) Cam Thomas, Tyree Robinson — they helped me make the transition pretty smooth. I’ve just been working hard, trying to get better.”

Asking to play on the opposite end of the ball is a task a lot of players would struggle with.

His fellow teammate, junior wide receiver Willie McNeal, said he applauds Brown for being willing to make the switch and said he didn’t know if he could even make the transition with the ease Brown has had.

But Brown has filled in as an important piece in other areas outside of the defense. Coach Bobby Petrino said he has turned out nicely into the team’s “number one special teams player” and credits his unique physical abilities for the necessary change for the better of the team.

“We made a decision after spring ball that we needed help in the secondary, and he was a guy that had that ability,” Petrino said. “(He has) the quickness, the change in direction, the things you look for, so we made the move and he just started working at it in the summer with the other players without even being coached, just coached by other players.

“I couldn’t be more happy with him. I think he’s doing a great job and has a great attitude and is an extremely hard worker for us.”

Brown now finds himself trying to shut down the position he once worked to perfect. Brown walked into good company with the “Air Force” — the WKU secondary — to learn his new role, and his number of defensive snaps have increased as the season has progressed.

Having played the receiver position gives him a slight advantage “as far as (wide receivers’) releases and the depths on their routes,” Brown said.

While McNeal said he didn’t know how he would react to a request of that magnitude, Brown said he didn’t mind the change one bit. As far as Brown and Petrino see it, everything is working out as planned.

“It was whatever was best for the team,” Brown said. “Coach Petrino felt like I could make plays on the defensive side of the ball. I didn’t have a problem with it at all.”