Missouri football’s scrimmage Saturday marked a major milestone for junior wide receiver Nate Brown.
He was sidelined for the 2016 season because of torn ligaments and muscle damage on the outside of his left ankle, an injury that required surgery to place a “huge plate” in his foot last September and forced him to take an unexpected redshirt season.
Brown also was shut down early during spring practice to have a torn labrum in his right shoulder repaired.
That meant last weekend’s scrimmage was the first time in nearly two years he’d taken a real full-speed wallop on the gridiron.
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“I was a little bit nervous going into this scrimmage,” Brown said. “(It’s) the first time I’ve actually had to be tackled with the shoulder and ankle and that sort of thing, but I felt really good. No type of soreness coming away from that.”
That’s welcome news for the Tigers.
After all, Brown led Mizzou with four touchdowns as a sophomore in 2015, finishing second on the team behind J’Mon Moore in catches (27) and yards (326) that season.
Brown has never played in second-year Tigers offensive coordinator Josh Heupel’s system, but he’s eager for the opportunity.
“No other team in the SEC is passing the ball like we are,” Brown said. “Seeing those guys fly downfield and get a bunch of opportunities for deep balls (last season), that’s always nice as a receiver watching that.”
Brown is working at right outside receiver, “but I know how to play both and I’ve played inside, too, so I know how to do it all,” he said.
“There’s so many roles in this offense and so many different ways to utilize different skill sets, so whatever coach Heupel or (wide receivers) coach (Andy) Hill wants me to do I’m all for it,” Brown said. “I’m just ready to play.”
His teammates are ready to have him back, too.
Sophomore wide receiver Richaud Floyd said Brown’s return “brought a veteran presence” that “going to help a lot this season.”
He adds depth to the position group, which fosters more daily competition, and other receivers have noticed his hunger and desire after missing last season.
“Sitting out a whole year, you can tell that killed him, but he’s got that competitive edge back and he’s looking like the old Nate Brown,” Floyd said.
But its Nate Brown, v2.0 — with an upgraded production mode.
“He took it upon himself to become more of a physical wide receiver now,” junior quarterback Drew Lock said. “As far as going up and getting balls, going through guys and maybe even getting a pass interference if they’re face-guarding him, he’s become a trustworthy guy with a competitive ball.”
Despite the surgical scars, Brown believes he’ll come back better than before and can’t wait to prove it Sept. 2 against Missouri State at Memorial Stadium.
“I’ve grown more so mentally in my approach to the game,” he said. “I’m not taking any practice for granted, given the injuries that I’ve had, so I think my approach has definitely matured a whole bunch. … I feel like I’m coming back a lot better, a lot bigger and faster and stronger.”