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January 5, 2013
On a day when playing time was scarce and offensive output even more so, quarterback Max Browne accounted for all of his team's points.
Pretty it was not. Consistency was missing. But the 75-yard, fourth-quarter drive he led and two-point conversion he engineered staked the West team to a brief, 8-7 lead.
The performance blew no one away. But in a game that ended in a 15-8 loss, it worked as a defining moment and an MVP-worthy snapshot.
It won't be written about for years or passed down in Army Bowl lore. That's OK, though.
Browne doesn't want to be defined by one drive in an all-star game.
"Games like this are kind of weird because you sit out and can't really get into a groove," Browne said. "On that drive, we kind of got in the groove. We told our line that if they give me time and protect, we could pick them apart. That's what we did on that drive."
Privately, Brown's U.S. Army Bowl experience had little to do with football. It was conversations with his future USC teammates. It was discussing the program's future with Chris Hawkins. It was watching Nico Falah protect his blindside. It was finding out the hard way that Steven Mitchell has a history filled with table tennis championships by making the mistake of challenging him in the Army Bowl rec room.
In short, it was a head start on a Trojan bond.
"It was cool to throw a few passes to Steven Mitchell and have Justin [Davis] as my running back," Browne said. "We kind of knew each other for a while, but we never got to connect like we did here."
As Browne did interviews following the game, he fielded just two questions about his performance. The rest of the conversation centered on the near future.
What are your feelings on competing for the starting job in L.A.? What's your take on the state of the USC program?
"It was an eventful week for us USC guys," Browne said. "USC had a bowl game. We had 13 commitments here. We had a de-commitment happen. We picked up a new commitment. At the end of the day, that was the most exciting part. We're all ready to move on, get down there and compete."
Whether or not the 40,000 people in the stands enjoyed the game did not matter. Browne left his mark on the only people whose opinions matter and did so before anyone put on a game jersey.
"I didn't know he was that kind of leader," Falah said. "He showed up to lead from day one. He knew what he was doing right away. I guess if anything surprised me it was just how loud he is in the huddle. When he talks, you really feel it. You're dialed in to him. Nobody is doing off. You can, like, feel his voice."
It wasn't just Falah who took notice. Browne conversed with former USC commit Eddie Vanderdoes often throughout the week. He picked the four-star defensive tackle's brain and pitched the Trojans' case. He spearheaded table tennis games for he and his fellow Trojans-to-be. Already, he was the quarterback. Already, he was the leader.
"Max just talked to me a lot about how we're going to work hard from the moment we get to USC," Hawkins said "He says we're not going to be the freshmen that get to college and slack off. We're going to work to have a chance of starting. We talked about that in our rooms, on the practice field and in the little game room they had set up."
To Browne and his teammates, those moments matter more than a scoring drive. An impressive touchdown pass and an all-star game loss will be forgotten before they make it home from San Antonio. The days leading up to that stuff, on the other hand, will endure.
"I'm just looking forward to being a part of the Trojans," Browne said. "For me, I'll remember all the talks with my teammates more than anything."
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