GREENVILLE — If it’s true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, then Trevon Brown should be as powerful as an Olympic weightlifter by now.
The East Carolina wide receiver has suffered so many setbacks, some because of injury and others by his own doing, that he’s spent nearly as much time on the sidelines as he has on the field during his up-and-down college career.
And yet he always seems to bounce back.
Better than ever.
He punctuated his latest comeback two weeks ago by catching a school-record 95-yard touchdown pass at West Virginia. He followed that up Saturday by hauling in a 76-yard scoring pass from Gardner Minshew against Virginia Tech on a play in which he beat his man one-on-one then outran everyone on the field down the far sideline to the end zone.
“It’s unbelievable,” Brown said. “I thought I’d never be at this point. My teammates rallied around me, I got everything right and it’s just amazing to be back out there. It’s what I was meant to do. I truly feel blessed.”
He might feel blessed now, but there was a time — make that several times over the past four years — in which cursed might have been a more fitting description of his football fortunes.
It started before he ever arrived on campus for the first time.
An all-state selection at Wilmington’s New Hanover High, Brown was denied initial freshman eligibility by the NCAA’s Clearinghouse in 2013 because his high school transcript was submitted too late.
He eventually enrolled that January after going through spring practice and quickly worked his way up the Pirates’ depth chart. He caught 14 passes for 264 yards and four touchdowns before suffering a knee injury that forced him to miss the final five games of the 2014 regular season.
A year later, he finished third on the team with 41 catches and four more touchdowns, stats that would have been even better had he not been suspended for the Pirates’ first three games for an unspecified violation of ECU’s student code of conduct.
Then, just as he appeared poised for a breakout season after being selected as his team’s spring MVP, the 6-foot-2, 211-pound junior was knocked down again when he was ruled academically ineligible just one day before the Pirates’ 2016 season opener against Western Carolina.
It was a setback that forced Brown to do some serious soul searching.
“It was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing wrong,’” he said. “I was trying to do everything right and stuff just kept piling up and kept happening.
“I leaned on God every day. I have a 4-year-old son and I look at him and think I’ve got to have a better life for him.”
But even as he finally got his priorities and academics in order, fate still wasn’t through with Brown. He suffered a serious neck injury in spring practice that threatened to bring his playing career to a premature end. It was one of the few times in which he let the disappointment get to him.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m ever going to play again,’” he said. “I went to practice, I didn’t go to camp. It was tough to look at my teammates eyes and feel like I couldn’t help them.”
True to form, Brown didn’t stay down long.
He finally received medical clearance on Wednesday, Aug. 30, several weeks earlier than coach Scottie Montgomery expected. Three days later, he was in uniform catching four passes for 43 yards in ECU’s season opening loss to James Madison.
“His diligence and hard work is directly reflected in the progress he’s made,” Montgomery said of Brown, “and the position he’s currently in.”
It’s a position that has him among the nation’s leaders in yards per reception at 25.3 and could potentially make him a hot commodity among NFL scouts as he continues to shake off the rust of inactivity and build chemistry with quarterbacks Minshew and Thomas Sirk.
“He’s a playmaker,” Minshew said. “When the ball’s in the air, he’s just going to go get it. Anytime he’s in single coverage, it’s going to be good for us.”
Three games into the season, Brown’s play has been one of the few good things that has happened for the Pirates in an 0-3 start that has seen them lose to an FCS opponent and get outscored by a whopping 154-51 margin.
Though the results thus far have been discouraging, Brown continues to be upbeat. That’s because after all he’s been through, he knows that losing football is still much better than no football at all.