TERRE HAUTE —
When Indiana State tight end Jamar Brown reached out and effortlessly snagged a one-handed catch during a first-quarter drive at Indiana last Thursday, few would’ve guessed that less than a year prior, Brown was being trained to target players, not be a target himself.
But if his debut at tight end against Indiana is any indication, Brown will be a dependable cog to help move ISU’s offense. Brown had four catches for 50 yards against the Hoosiers, including the eye-catching one-handed snag.
If you look at Brown — he’s 6-foot-5, 230 pounds with very little body fat — you immediately see why he has the body to be a tight end. But what’s been impressive is how he’s made the transition so seamlessly in every facet of his position. He’s ahead of the curve on the physical side as well as the mental side of being a tight end.
“Jamar has size, ability to run and ball skills. What’s happened is he’s learned how to be a tight end. He’s become a better blocker, pass receiver and blocker. He has an unbelievably large upside. We think he’s got the chance to be really special,” ISU coach Mike Sanford said.
Brown — an Indianapolis native who played high school football at Lawrence North — could have been moved into any position upon his arrival at ISU prior to the 2012 season. Former coach Trent Miles initially put Brown on the defensive side at linebacker. Brown had five tackles last season in spot duty.
“I played a lot of positions in high school. I played wide receiver, tight end and defensive end. I’m pretty athletic and I can transition into any position,” Brown said.
But it became apparent even before Miles left last November that Brown’s athleticism would be better served on the offensive side, namely at tight end, given that 2012 starter Michael Mardis was due to graduate.
The wheels began to move before Miles left for Georgia State. When Mike Sanford arrived in December, he saw no reason to change plans.
“He wanted to be a tight end. He saw himself as a tight end. We liked what we saw body-type and athletic ability-wise. We said it would be a great position for him,” Sanford said. “We had to have a legitimate tight end to line up. Even though we’re a spread offense, we’re going to use a tight end.”
The transition to offense was fine with Brown.
“I favor the offense. I worked behind Mike Mardis a bit. I had a bit more speed and I can be used in routes more,” Brown said. “And … I have some good mitts.”
Those mitts provided one of the few offensive highlights of ISU’s 73-35 loss at Indiana with his one-handed catch. The supreme confidence most receivers have wasn’t something that came slowly to Brown either.
“Everybody knows I catch everything so I’m the guy they depend on,” said Brown, matter-of-factly.
It’s only bragging if you can’t back it up. Brown’s quarterback saw his potential early on.
“Jamar played real well the first game and has throughout preseason practice. It didn’t surprise me. I’m proud of how he works and how he improves in practice everyday,” ISU quarterback Mike Perish said.
Brown provides a big target for Perish. Not only can he handle the typical short routes that tight end’s typically run, but Brown demonstrated against Indiana that he can go downfield. His one-handed catch was a 21-yard reception into the left corner of IU’s defense.
“He’s a great athlete. He can make up for a slightly bad throw and he has good hands. He does a good job with his athleticism,” Perish said.
If he reaches the potential both he and the ISU coaching staff believe he can achieve, he’ll be in good stead to join a solid group of tight ends that the Sycamores have produced in the last decade. Mardis and Alex Jones were recent solid contributors at the position. Terre Haute native Jamie Petrowski, who played for the Sycamores from 2002-05, reached the NFL.
“I think it’s good to be a part of the tight end tradition. I knew the coaches liked to use tight ends a lot so it’s a role I liked,” Brown said.
A role he’s taken to like a fish to water.