Bellevue native Les Brown hopes second miracle gets him to NFL
Les Brown, who saw his father rescue his brother from a burning house, never played college football but has landed a free-agent contract with the Dolphins.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Why the attention?The Miami Dolphins signed Les Brown V, 24, to a three-year contract despite the fact he hasn't played football since high school.
Brown at BYU's Pro Day:
• 4.43 40-yard dash
• 39-inch vertical leap
Robert Griffin III at NFL combine:
• 4.41 40-yard dash
• 39-inch vertical leap
Les Brown remembers the tongues of flames licking from every window of his Bellevue home. He remembers the fear he felt when he saw his father run back into the house looking for his younger brother.
Brown was only 4 ½ years old, but he remembers the horror of seeing his father and brother emerging from the flames, charred and bloodied. He still can feel the panic that was beating inside him like a second heart.
"I remember being so scared and panicky. I didn't know what to think," said Brown, whose family nickname is Five, as in Les Brown V. "And all of a sudden my dad comes running out and he's basically on fire and he has my brother clutched in his arms. My brother wasn't moving and I didn't know what the deal was."
On Jan. 7, 1993, the Browns' home caught on fire. Les Brown Jr., Five's father, thought everyone had safely exited, until he looked around and couldn't find 3-year-old Braden. Les Brown Jr. ignored firefighters and went back into the inferno.
He found Braden in an upstairs bedroom, held his son in a sheltering hug, then leapt down the seven steps, through the flames and back out the front door. He suffered severe burns over 37 percent of his body, and doctors gave him a 33 percent chance of survival. But after painful skin grafts and long sessions of physical therapy, Les Brown Jr. survived.
"Having those memories is painful at times," the younger Les Brown said. "But in the end, everyone made it out OK and everyone's still here on this earth. I'm just grateful that my dad had the courage to run back into the house and save my little brother. My dad's definitely a true hero."
Now Five is in the early process of authoring his own miracle.
At 24, Brown, who hadn't played football since he was an all-state receiver in high school in Salt Lake City, is trying to make the Miami Dolphins' 53-man squad as a tight end.
No less an expert than Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young said Brown just might do it.
"First of all, he should have played college football and he should have been very good," said Young, co-founder and managing partner of Huntsman Gay Global Capital, where both Les Browns worked. "He had the talent. But as time goes on, you think that you've lost your window."
"From my perspective, knowing Les, it's not that far-fetched. But from an outsider's perspective, from stem to stern, I can see where it would seem that way."
This time a year ago, Les Brown was working behind a desk at Huntsman Gay Global Capital's West Palm Beach office. He was planning to return to school at Westminster College in Salt Lake City and finish his finance degree. Long-term, his goal was to work for an investment bank or a consulting firm in New York.
The NFL was something he watched, like a second religion, Sunday afternoons. In high school he got offers to play football at Oregon, Washington State and Brigham Young. Instead, he chose to play basketball, the sport he always loved most, at Westminster College, an NAIA school.
"I was just kind of floating around wondering what my next step was," Brown said.
Last summer, he was touring the country with his brother, looking for the proper postcollege training facility for Braden, now a 305-pound senior tackle at BYU. They were auditioning trainers to see who could best prepare Braden for the 2013 draft when they met well-known NFL combine trainer Chad Ikei in Phoenix. That meeting awakened something in Les Brown. That meeting got him thinking about another miracle.
"He was asking me such intriguing and detailed questions for his brother," said Ikei, who has trained Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and safety Adrian Wilson. "And he had such a great stature, and he came from such a great gene pool. He was like a genetic freak."
The Browns spent almost two hours with Ikei, who asked Les if he was curious about training seriously.
"No," Les told him. "I'm just a washed-up basketball player."
Ikei moved his headquarters to Honolulu and last Christmas Day he heard a knock at the door. It was Five. "I'm ready to get serious," he told Ikei.
Brown planned to stay in Hawaii for three months and get physically ready for the NFL. His first target was BYU's Pro Day at the end of March.
"It was a tough decision for him to make," Ikei said. "This was a young man who was preparing for his future in the business world and he was willing to drop everything and move 3,000 miles away to do this."
It was a longshot, but the precedent already has been set. San Diego's Antonio Gates and New Orleans' Jimmy Graham made the transition from college basketball player to NFL tight end. Brown, at 6 feet 4, had that same prototypical pro look.
"There are late-bloomers and, luckily, Les has gotten this chance," Young said. "It's not like he's truly an accountant who's just off the streets. That's not the case here. But the truth of the matter is he didn't play college football and he has some rare talents and it's going to be fun to see if he can find a way to stick with the Dolphins or someone else."
Ikei invited 11 prospects, including defensive back DeShawn Snead who recently signed with the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent, to work out for three months in Honolulu.
Brown's weight went from 215 to 240. Quickly, the skinny, "washed-up" hooper morphed into a pass-catching tight end out of Central Casting.
"About a week into training it really clicked for me," Brown said. "This little training vacation in Hawaii turned into me thinking that if I work hard at this, I can make it happen. I decided this wasn't going to be just some fun in the sun."
Brown set goals for himself. He did his research, looking for the best 40-yard dash times among tight ends at the Combine. He saw that San Francisco's Vernon Davis once ran a 4.38. He wrote that number all over the walls of his bedroom and on his water bottle.
"Everything's stacked against him," Ikei said. "But it was stacked against him when he came out here to work with me. He was kind of a side bet I made with his father. 'I'll work your older son out, while I'm waiting for your younger son.' Now it looks like I could win the jackpot with my side bet. I don't count anything out with Les at all."
Brown was the surprising star of BYU's Pro Day. Despite a Grade III ankle sprain, he ran a 4.43 40 and had a 39-inch vertical jump.
On the sideline, brother Braden was smiling, telling his BYU teammates, "I told you he was a beast."
"I definitely had some nerves that morning, but it was a great experience," Brown said. "I felt like I was in a zone. I was on Cloud Nine all day. The Pro Day was probably the biggest stage I've been on in my life, but there was a big portion of my training with Chad that was mental and getting me mentally prepared for this day. He told us, 'This is going to be the biggest day of your life, and you're going to kill it.' "
After the Pro Day, Brown worked out for the Dolphins and Green Bay Packers. He had another workout scheduled with Philadelphia, but decided instead to sign a three-year deal with Miami.
"Getting invited to camp is not what he's trying to do," said Brown's father, who played baseball and basketball at Interlake High School in Bellevue. "His goal is to make the team that took him look like the smartest team in the league. His goal is to have everyone say, 'Wow, what a great move!' "
A little more than a week ago, he completed the Dolphins' first minicamp.
"Heading into it, I thought I would be star-struck a little bit," Brown said. "You play Madden and you're using these guys in the game. Or you're watching NFL Ticket and you see all these guys out there and they're so big and fast and athletic."
The Dolphins already have four tight ends — — Anthony Fasano, Jeron Mastrud, Will Yeatman and Charlie Clay — but new head coach Joe Philbin is looking for another pass-catching tight end to use in two-tight-end sets.
"If the Dolphins use him as a receiving-type tight end he'll be very successful right away," Ikei said. "His ability to jump, his speed and his body control are all there. I'm not comparing him to Larry Fitzgerald, but Les has that innate ability, like Fitz, to get up in the air and twist his body and still catch the ball.
"If they use him like New England used Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez , he'll be able to jump above all the linebackers and make plays. And he'll be able to create separation against defensive backs."
After minicamp, Dolphins tight-end coach Dan Campbell sat down with Brown and congratulated him.
"We were just in helmets, so once we put the full pads on, we'll see how that plays out," Brown said. "But as far as running around and catching the ball and interacting with the guys, I felt like I fit in. My experience so far has been nothing but sensational.
"I'm still in the process. Obviously I still have a lot of work to do. Got to really learn the playbook. But just getting this far is an achievement. I hope I can continue this ride and make this 53-man roster and eventually get on the field and make some plays."
"I would never undersell this kid," Ikei said. "He's a very intelligent kid. Has a great work ethic. He won't be afraid to ask questions and make mistakes and pick himself up and do it again. It will actually surprise me if he doesn't make the roster."
Les Brown V was eyewitness to a miracle. Nineteen years ago, he saw his father save a life and save his family. That day, in some place deep inside of himself, Five understood the magic of courage and desire.
Now he is living his life completely, without regrets. He's taking a chance, unafraid of failure, unafraid of miracles.
"I hope that my story, albeit a very nontraditional one, can be helpful to people," he said. "I hope it can help people realize that, hey, it doesn't matter if you're two years removed from playing college sports and you're sitting behind a desk. If you put your mind and effort into something, you can make your dreams come true."
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or firstname.lastname@example.org
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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