NORMAN — Justin Brown had never caught more passes for more yards in a college game than he did this past Saturday.
Good for Oklahoma.
Even better for Brown.
It's been a year since the sex abuse scandal at Penn State broke wide open. Brown, then a junior receiver for the Nittany Lions, was enjoying an off week when he suddenly found his team and his university embroiled in what would become the biggest scandal that the sports world has ever seen.
Every day over the next two months seemed to bring more horrific details.
“It was always something new,” Brown said.
He often wondered what more could come.
“And once you felt like that, something else came out,” he said Monday at the Sooners' weekly press luncheon. “I guess it's how something things go some times.”
Ironically, because of his big-time play this past weekend, Brown was among the players selected to attend the luncheon on the one-year anniversary of the day that news broke about the investigation into Jerry Sandusky's inappropriate sexual advances or assaults on boys. Over the next 10 months, the former Penn State defensive coordinator would be found guilty of 45 counts of sexual abuse, iconic head coach Joe Paterno would be fired, the NCAA would hand down to Penn State its most punitive penalties ever, and a school and its football program would be forever changed.
Smack in the middle of the mess were Penn State's players.
No one was victimized more than the boys whom Sandusky abused, but next in line were those players. They had gone to Penn State to play ball, but suddenly, they had to deal with this?
No wonder everyone in the sports world feels so good about what the Nittany Lions have done this season. After getting off to a rocky start with losses to Ohio and Virginia, Penn State has won six of its last seven games.
Remember, though, not all of those players who were affected are still playing in State College.
Eleven players transferred in the wake of the scandal, including Brown. While the players who stayed are often lauded for their loyalty, it's hard to fault those who left. It's even harder not to feel good for any of them who are having success.
And no one is having any bigger impact than Brown.
He has been the Sooners' punt returner since he stepped onto campus, immediately upgrading that position. Three weeks ago against Kansas, he had a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown, and he leads the Big 12 with a 17.8-yards-per-return average.
Then, of course, he had his breakout game at receiver on Saturday. He had seven catches for 107 yards and one circus touchdown catch. He hauled in the touchdown even though the defender guarding him tipped the ball right before it reached Brown.
His quick reaction made the catch No. 2 on ESPN's Top 10 plays.
“I guess that's cool,” Brown said, “that people were able to see it.”
“Other than that, I'm not too worried about it.”
Brown, if you couldn't tell, does not fit the mold of flamboyant receiver. He doesn't brag on himself. He doesn't die his hair or wear gaudy looks, unless a diamond stud earring and a “THANK YOU GOD” silicone bracelet are considered flashy.
Despite coming in so late — he didn't arrive on campus until after practice began this season — he has continued to have a bigger and bigger impact for OU. Sooner quarterback Landry Jones says he's felt a growing connection with Brown since the Kansas State game, and the numbers bear that out.
Six catches for 48 yards vs. K-State.
Three catches for 19 yards vs. Texas Tech.
Five catches for 73 yards vs. Texas.
Four catches for 72 yards vs. Kansas
Four catches for 42 yards vs. Notre Dame.
Then came the big seven-catch game vs. Iowa State.
He already has as many catches this season as he ever had in any season at Penn State, which wasn't known for its passing attack. At OU, Brown has had a chance to shine.
“I'm not really so worried about me and my performance individually,” he said. “The main thing is to go out there and get a win.”
True enough, but even though he may not say it, Brown deserved to have a good senior season. It's difficult to imagine all of the things that he and his teammates endured last season. The daily uncertainty wondering what hammer would drop next. The satellite trucks staking out their practice facility. The cloud hanging over their team.
Even though the Nittany Lions kept playing, it became a season lost.
Now, Brown is enjoying his best fall ever.
Good for him.