Six-foot-eight, 345 pound Oklahoma left tackle Orlando Brown changed into his street clothes after a 56-7 win over UTEP, wearing a white button down shirt with pink polka dots, lace free shoes, Ray-Ban glasses, a gold chain and a foxtail hanging out of his right denim pocket.
“It’s a whole lot of swag,” Brown said about his outfit. “I just looked at my closet, and I was like ‘it’s a fox-tail kind of day.’”
A fashion enthusiast and a projected 2018 first-round draft pick, Brown has more to him than meets the eye — a story larger than his almost seven-foot wingspan.
The son of a former NFL offensive lineman, Brown has flourished in the crimson and cream, becoming one of the top left tackles in the country. But his route to the top of the college football world wasn’t easy or expected. From nearly not graduating high school, to the loss of a parent, Brown’s overcome the toughest of obstacles. Now a team captain in his junior season at Oklahoma, he’s gone much further than many believed he could.
“It’s a blessing,” Brown said. “Just to come in here and to start where I started and to get to this point now at this university — it’s a blessing.”
Brown is not your average offensive lineman, wanting to one day be the face of “Big and Tall” clothing according to Jammal Brown, his personal life coach. But he did take on the personality and size, of his almost 10-year NFL veteran dad.
Orlando Brown Sr., also known as “Zeus,” was labeled as a scrappy player, going undrafted out of South Carolina State, and at one point being suspended by the NFL for shoving a referee. This is something Brown has grown into — being voted the biggest trash talker in the Big 12 and having the tendency to receive penalties for his aggressive play. Nevertheless, Brown has created a charisma not even his dad could relate to.
In September of 2011, Zeus died of diabetic ketoacidosis — a serious diabetes complication — leaving a 15-year-old Brown without a father.
Brown found himself searching for someone to point him in the right direction. His family had moved from his hometown of Hyattsville, Maryland, to Duluth, Georgia, giving him and his siblings a fresh start. In January of 2012, just months after his father’s death, Brown knocked on the office door of then-head football coach of Peachtree Ridge High School, Mark Fleetwood.
“I hadn’t seen a kid like this,” Fleetwood said. “He walks in my door and I put him on the scales, and this is no lie, he was 415 (pounds). He was 6’7, 415. But he had a plan — all he wanted was a chance.”
Despite being overweight, Fleetwood gave him that chance. Brown started his junior season — his first season after his father’s death — wearing a white bandana that he still sports today, honoring Zeus. Brown was on a mission to not follow in his dad’s footsteps, but to make his own. He was on a mission to play Division I football and be a first-round draft pick.
When his senior season came around, Brown had dropped to 340 pounds and was ranked as one of the top offensive linemen in the country. He verbally committed to Tennessee, but with his GPA bordering the eligibility line, the Vols backed out just days before signing day.
Brown, abandoned by the Volunteers, was faced with a choice. He could forget his plan of playing Division I football and go to a junior college, or he could hope that a school would take a shot on him.
Former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops took a shot.
“That boy couldn’t stand the idea of going to junior college,” Fleetwood said. “He didn’t want that word in his vocabulary. He didn’t want to talk to them. He wouldn’t talk to them. I said ‘Orlando you better have a plan.’ He said ‘Coach I don’t need a plan. My plan is I’m going with Oklahoma. I’m going to make it.’ And he did.”
Brown never forgot that, and when Stoops retired this past June Brown took to twitter to thank the man who believed in him.
You took a chance on a 380 pound kid with a 1.9 GPA on signing day. For that I am thankful for you and the opportunity. Love you Coach pic.twitter.com/88Ai0vnTjI— Orlando Brown (Zeus) (@ZEUS__78) June 7, 2017
Brown arrived in Norman wide-eyed, seeking another mentor. He quickly found that mentor in Jammal, a former OU and NFL offensive lineman, and a familiar face from his childhood who helped at Zeus’ football camps. Jammal immediately took the younger Brown under his wing, helping him grow as a football player.
“I’m around him all the time,” Brown said. “Every day we’re watching film or working on something in the weight room or whatever it may be. He’s very hard on me. He’s really hard on me about fundamentals and all things that we preach. We learn every day.”
But off the field, the former New Orleans Saint has become Orlando Brown’s life coach, personal stylist and occasional wingman.
“He understands the overall concept to what we’re trying to do,” Jammal said. “It comes down to not only being a football player, but having fashion, knowing how to talk to women, having good character. Things like that can go a long way.”
Brown and Jammal will talk for hours about things other than football — anything from how to handle financial issues to choosing which deodorant to use.
Their favorite topic? Fashion.
“I’m fresh all the time,” Brown said at a recent press conference. “If I didn’t have to wear OU stuff up here, I wouldn’t.”
Brown has become obsessed with his style, texting Jammal pictures of his outfit the Friday before each game. The foxtail has become his signature, wearing it with just about every outfit. Brown has become engrossed in fashion, making Jammal believe he has a future in front of a camera, not just on a football field.
But Jammal keeps him focused, preaching that fashion always takes a backseat to football. Jammal emphasizes to Brown the importance of laying a foundation that will eventually help him achieve his goals. This foundation is one of character, attitude and the drive to perform each day like it was his last.
Jammal has taught Brown lessons he would have never learned himself. Their relationship has grown strong over the years, but Jammal’s purpose isn’t to be a father figure to Brown.
“I always tell him, ‘I’m not here to take the place of your dad,’” Jammal said. “I’m here so you can be better than what your dad was.”
Brown wants to surpass his father’s football legacy, and he wants to do it his own way. His foxtail separates him from all the other great left tackles that have come and gone in college football, and his ambition will get him where he wants to go.
“(He’s) ambitious. Very ambitious. He needs to take his ambition and find the right recipe and course,” Jammal said. “He wants it. He just needs to understand how to make it come the best way. He knows what he wants and he’s going to get it."