Northwestern’s Vince Browne excels on, off the field

Northwestern’s Vince Browne excels on, off the field

By Joe Scalzo

In the summer of 2006, when Lisbon’s Vince Browne announced he was going to play football at Northwestern, he knew there were people who doubted someone from a small Columbiana County school could play in the Big Ten, particularly one who suffered a serious knee injury his senior year and played just three games.

His response?

“Who cares?” he said. “Most of the people who doubt you are the ones who never played football themselves.”

After redshirting his first year with the Wildcats, Browne has emerged as one of Northwestern’s best players. He earned first team All-Big Ten Freshmen honors his first season and, over the past two years, has started 24 of 25 games at defensive end.

The junior earned second team all-conference accolades this season after recording 15 tackles for loss and seven sacks. “I’m certainly not satisfied with my performance,” Browne said, speaking by phone last week after practice. “I know I can be a lot better but this year was certainly a step in the right direction.

“I’m always looking to build on what I did before. There’s always something I can be better at.”

The Wildcats went 7-5 (3-5 in the Big Ten) and earned a trip to the Jan. 1 TicketCity Bowl, where they will play Texas Tech at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Browne has lost his previous two bowl games, including a 38-35 overtime loss to this year’s top-ranked team, Auburn.

“There’s a lot more hype about the game [than a regular season game] and you get so long to prepare that you kind of just want to go and play,” he said. “We worked all season for the opportunity and we certainly remember the feeling from last year and the year prior, so we don’t want that to happen again.”

Browne said his best moment from this year’s regular season came in a 21-17 upset win over Iowa on Nov. 13 when he made a game-clinching sack.

“We were struggling a bit coming into that game and nobody gave us a chance,” he said. “They came into our place and we beat their [butt].”

Browne played linebacker for the Blue Devils and, when he was recruited, there was talk that he might play a hybrid linebacker/defensive end position at Northwestern.

It never happened.

“They gave me No. 94 and I took the hint, you know?” he said.

Although he had to adjust to the speed of Big Ten play, both from a mental and physical standpoint, he said that position change was the toughest part. Instead of playing a stand-up, read-and-react position, Browne had to learn how to play out of a three-point stance in a position where a split-second hesitation can push him out of the play altogether.

“It’s completely, totally opposite [from playing linebacker],” he said. “You’ve got to burn your eyes into the guy in front of you and take care of him first because he’s focused on driving you out of there.”

Northwestern puts a bigger emphasis on academics than most Division I schools, which means Browne had pressure to perform on the field and off. This month, the Wildcats received the American Football Coaches Association’s Academic Achievement Award, given to the FBS school with the highest graduation rate. It was the fifth win in nine years for Northwestern, which was one of two schools (Rice was the other) to earn a 100 percent graduation rate for its freshman class from 2003-04.

“That’s why I came here — to challenge myself academically and athletically,” said Browne, who has a cumulative grade point average of just under 3.0 in Learning and Organizational Change. “Everyone has done a good job of handling their business here.”

Browne is set to graduate in the spring but will return next fall to play out his fifth year of eligibility. When asked who made the biggest impact on him from an academic standpoint growing up, Browne pointed to his parents, Ed and Mary Browne.

“They always expected me to get good grades,” he said, “and so I did.”

Browne isn’t sure what he plans to do once his career is over, mainly because he doesn’t want that to happen anytime soon.

“Right now I’m just focused on playing football as long as I can,” he said.