100 in 100: Vance County’s Jason Brown, football to farmer

The Tar Heels center played in the NFL and then shifted to charitable farming

Henderson’s Jason Brown won four state championships in track and field events, but he made his biggest impact on the gridiron, getting All-ACC honors at UNC and becoming one of the NFL’s top centers. (Ed Zurga / AP Photo)

North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.

Vance County

Jason Brown

Four years after becoming the highest-paid center in the NFL, with a contract that paid him $20 million in guaranteed money, Jason Brown walked away from football in 2012 at the age of 29.

Although he had just been released by the St. Louis Rams, he had free agent offers from at least three other teams. But the former Southern Vance and North Carolina star had something else in mind.

He’d been haunted since his junior year with the Tar Heels by the memory of his older brother, a soldier who was killed in action in Iraq, and he wanted to give something back to society in Lunsford “Ducey” Brown’s name.

So he transitioned from the football field to the fields on a farm he owns near Louisburg where he grows produce to be given away to food pantries around the state. To date, he’s donated more than 100,000 pounds of sweet potatoes and 10,000 pounds of cucumbers.

Brown wasn’t born into farming. He learned most of what he knows about it from watching YouTube videos. But then, he’s always been a fast learner.

Jason Brown. (AP Photo)

He was a member of the National Honor Society during his days at North Vance, a Governor’s School of North Carolina attendee who graduated in the top 10 of his class. At 6-foot-3, 312 pounds, he was just as talented athletically as he was academically.

Brown won four 2A state championships in track — three in the discus and one in the shot put. In football, he stood out as a lineman on both sides of the ball, earning selection to the Shrine Bowl before moving on to UNC. There, he switched from tackle to guard before finally finding a home at center, earning first-team All-ACC honors as a senior in 2004.

A fourth-round selection of the Baltimore Ravens in 2005, Brown played with the team for four seasons before signing that rich free agent contract with the Rams. Even though he was eventually released after losing his starting job, he still figured to have some football left in him when he retired to become a farmer.

“My agent told me, ‘You’re making the biggest mistake of your life,” Brown recalled to CBS Sports in 2016. “And I looked right back at him and said, ‘No, I am not.’”