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NFL Legend J.B. Brown Brings Lessons He Learned in Pop Warner to His Youth League

Welcome to Why We Play, a series of discussions with current players and NFL Legends about their youth football experience and why they play the game.

When J.B. Brown was a kid, he said he had a "burning desire" to play football.

"I remember I was so excited," Brown said. "I would have all my pads and my uniform on before my mother got home from work to take me to practice or a game. I’d be sitting watching TV in my uniform, just waiting for her to get home."

The Washington, D.C. native started playing Pop Warner in fifth grade. Brown's desire and enthusiasm eventually led him to star at DeMatha Catholic High School and earn a scholarship to the University of Maryland.

"Even all the way up through college, I may have fantasied about it, but I never knew I’d play in the NFL," Brown said. “It happened because I worked hard and tried to be the best I could be.

"(Football) teaches you all of that. It teaches you discipline, how to deal with conflict, working together, working through pain."

Thanks to his hard work, Brown was drafted in the 12th round of the 1989 NFL Draft by the Miami Dolphins. The cornerback went on to play 12 years with the Dolphins, Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, and Detroit Lions, starting 97 games and making the postseason in seven seasons. 

Brown played the bulk of his career (1989-96) for the Miami Dolphins under legendary Hall of Fame coaches Don Shula and Jimmy Johnson. 

He says he carried the lessons of youth football throughout his pro career. 

"That’s the thing about sports in general, but especially football — as a young kid, you might not understand that, but you’re being taught self-discipline, you’re being taught teamwork," Brown said. "As I got older, we spent so much time together; we’re in meetings, we’re in the locker room. In college and then the pros, you spend more time with your teammates than your family.

"People ask me what I miss (about the game). I miss all those relationships and kinships I had with all of those guys."

After his career ended in 2000, Brown went back home to D.C. to coach his old high school team. One of the players he coached at DeMatha is Rodney McLeod of the Philadelphia Eagles.

In 2013, Brown and some friends developed the Grassroots Youth Football League in the Maryland/D.C. area. Several NFL players have gotten their start in the Grassroots Youth Football League's spring games for 7-15 year old players, including Baltimore Ravens tackle Orlando Brown.

"With youth football, of course you teach them Xs and Os and go over technique and everything," Brown said. "But one of the main things I tried to stress was competing with each other, playing for each other and to be proud in your accomplishments. Then just to go out and do the best you can every day. And to be the best person you can be in life as well."

Photo: AP/Paul Spinelli


  • Youth Football
  • NFL Players and Legends
  • Coaching