By Matt Herb
The weather is supposed to be lousy on Saturday - rainy and cold - but while that might dissuade a few tan-seekers and tailgaters from heading out to Beaver Stadium for the Blue-White Game, it isn't going to be a problem for Justin Brown.
"That's what this sport is all about," the junior wide receiver said Thursday. "You can't expect to play - especially in the Big Ten - in 70-degree weather on a nice sunny day. You're gonna be playing in the wind, rain, snow, hail, all that type of stuff. So you might as well get ready for it now, because we'll probably have to face it in the season."
Brown is looking to get back on track after a performance in the Outback Bowl that has haunted him throughout the off-season. He caught two passes for 18 yards in the Nittany Lions' loss to Florida, but it's not the catches he remembers; it's the drops. There were three by his count, putting Penn State in tough down-and-distance situations and contributing to quarterback Matt McGloin's agonizing afternoon. Brown's performance in the 37-24 loss to the Gators was enough to put a serious damper on a season in which he finished third on the team in receiving with 33 catches for 452 yards.
"That was probably the worst game I played since I started playing football," he said. "I took that game very hard. If you ask anybody, I probably took that game the hardest. I feel like there were a lot of times when I could have changed the game by making a couple of catches and helping Matt out, but I let him down and I let the team down. I've been thinking about that game every single day and trying to use it as motivation to never let it happen again. That's all I can do."
After the loss, Brown turbocharged his workout regimen. He began arriving early, catching balls from the JUGS machine, and staying late to work with the quarterbacks. "I feel like I have to be out there, because that's one of the things that I struggled with toward the end of the season," he said. "I need to be able to catch the ball consistently. So that's what I forced myself to do."
He's also been doing extra weightlifting exercises to improve his grip. After his regular lifting sessions, he does a couple of laps around the weight room carrying small weighted balls using his fingertips. "It gets pretty tiring in your forearms," he said. "It's really about [developing] your forearms to help your hand strength. I decided to do that a lot."
Though it's receding quickly into the past as Penn State gets set to conclude its spring practice sessions, the Outback Bowl continues to serve as a reminder to Brown to keep working.
"I can't really go back to play the game again because it's not going to happen," he said. "I can just use it as motivation and try to move on, make sure it doesn't happen again."