Oct. 15, 2012
By Tracy Nelson, Army Athletic Communications
Malcolm Brown sits leisurely in a booth at bustling Grant Hall on a crisp Friday morning. At 0900, he has already been awake for nearly three hours and is gearing up for two classes later that morning as I approach. Malcolm and I have crossed paths before, but are by no means more than distant acquaintances. That doesn't matter, however, as he greets me with a warm smile and a genuine handshake. He's not a man of many words, but what he does say is equally impactful and purposeful.
Five years ago, Brown was a wide-eyed, undersized teenager, showing up for his first day at the USMA Prep School admittedly undisciplined and unsure of himself. Four years late, the previous sentence could not be further from the truth as Brown is a mere eight months from being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Army.
Brown's journey has by no means been an easy one, going through more in 23 years than most people should in a lifetime. But he has turned every bump and every hurdle into an opportunity to better himself and those around him - the mark of a true West Point man.
"West Point has been great for Malcolm Brown," said veteran Army assistant coach Tucker Waugh. "He came in very understated, a very shy plebe. I'm so proud of how he has developed, both on and off the field. He's a tremendous leader for this team and in the Corps of Cadets. He's matured in all regards."
That maturity is a by-product of Brown's environment, life experiences and family. In fact, if it weren't for his father, Roscoe, Brown may brushed the idea of playing football at the Academy to the side and not given it another thought.
"My father has pushed me to be the man I am today," Brown said. "He pushed me to come here and throughout life. Without him, I don't know where I would be."
Serving the greater good seems to run in the Brown family, as Roscoe spent more than 20 years in the New York City Fire Department and retired as a lieutenant. A first-responder after the September 11 attacks, Roscoe spent the better part of the next few years cleaning up Ground Zero and honoring the many colleagues and friends he had lost in the horrific attacks.
"My dad switched units a year before the Sept. 11 attacks," Brown recalled. "His old unit responded to the crashes and not a single one of them came out alive. All of his friends died that day.
"Watching my father's determination and commitment to serving New York City and honoring his old unit inspired me to want to give back."
Brown would soon get his chance as former Army assistant coach John Misciagna came to Islip High School in Bay Shore, N.Y., but it was his father who coached him for the first time many years prior.
Brown's football career began at the ripe age of five when he played "up" on his older brother's, Roscoe Jr., 7-8 year old team. The boys' father coached the Wyandanch Junior Warriors and instilled confidence in his adolescent sons.
"Even going back to then, I've never been the biggest guy on the field, but I've managed to do the best with what I have and contribute where I can," Brown said.
Brown's grandfather had served in the 82nd Airborne, but aside from that, he had no military ties or aspirations. More localized teams such as Stony Brook and Hofstra also
recruited Brown, but it took just one visit to West Point, roughly two hours from home, for the high school senior to make his decision.
"I took my visit and I knew this was the place for me," he recalls. "The camaraderie of the entire team is what sold it. There's something special about this place."
A two-way player in high school, Brown's resume included All-Long Island, all-county choice and all-league honors, as well as being the single-season school record with 21
rushing touchdowns as a senior. Undersized, but speedy, Brown punched his ticket to the USMA Prep School for the 2008 season.
Now standing 5-foot-11 and weighing in at 181 pounds, Brown carries a do-it-all to contribute attitude and it continues to pay off. A two-way player in high school, he has spent time in Army's backfield, as a wide receiver and even as a returner on special teams over the last four years.
"The staff liked his athleticism, but we didn't know whether he would fit as a wide receiver or a running back coming in," said Waugh. "As it turns out, we were right because he has filled both of those roles since coming to West Point. His skill set is so versatile. We moved him from running back to wide receiver going into training camp this year. Then we needed him to make the switch back prior to the Wake Forest game. He transitioned so quickly, and we were so fortunate to have him."
No matter where he plays on the field, Brown conducts himself in much of the same way he does in all aspects of his life - impactful without flash or arrogance.
"We like to call Malcolm 'Mr. Utility'," said senior quarterback Trent Steelman. "In my opinion, he is one of the best overall players we have and is a big contributor to the team no matter where he plays. He's also developed into one of the most noticeable leaders since we have been here."
Mr. Utility made an impact out of the gate, immediately landing a spot on the three-deep and later starting five games as a rookie. Brown's role has done nothing but increase since that season and has included 20 career starts and nearly 2,000 total yards.
"I can catch the ball and played receiver earlier this season," Brown said. "I can run the ball a little bit out of the backfield and have moved back to running back for the last couple of games. The coaches have used me on special teams as a kick returner. I will do whatever it takes to win a game. Where ever the coaches put me, I'll do my best and get the job done."
Brown played a major role in Army's Armed Forces Bowl win over SMU in 2009, and he's had plenty of highlight-reel plays over his career. Both of those pale in comparison, however, to the one he made on Oct. 6, 2010, at rival Rutgers. Much like the events of Sept. 11 would forever change the course of Brown's life, so would a routine kickoff return. Eric LeGrand, then a junior for the Scarlet Knights, tackled Brown on the return. As LeGrand's helmet met Brown's left shoulder, both players fell to the turf, but only one got up. LeGrand was paralyzed on the play.
While LeGrand's life underwent a dramatic physical change no one can even begin to imagine, Brown has not returned a kick since that day. Boasting a great mutual respect for one another, the two keep in contact regularly. For Brown, the lesson from that day runs deep.
"He inspired me to make sure I play every down like it's my last," Brown says. "You never know when it's going to be your last down. Do everything to the best of your abilities."
Following an encounter such as that, it would be easy to play scared or even give up the sport. Not Brown. Instead, he handled himself and picked up the pieces - just like his father would have.
"I'm not sure how it's possible to have handled that with more grace than Malcolm did," Waugh said, looking back on the situation. "I have no doubt they will be life-long friends."
Waugh is probably right. LeGrand has visited West Point several times and texted Brown two weeks ago filled with excitement about his upcoming book, Believe.
No doubt Brown will promote the heck out of the book because that's the kind of guy he is. But he'll do so in his own subtle way that will make folks take notice.
"Malcolm doesn't say much, but he provides such a great example for everyone on this team," Waugh said. "The guys really respect him and how he handles himself both on and off the field."
Waugh describes Brown as talented, a leader and the consummate teammate. Steelman says Brown is laid-back, a hard worker and a team player.
After a long pause, Brown smiles and describes himself as "quiet, but confident."
If the past is any indication, the list of those that agree with that assessment, to include his father, coaches, teammates and LeGrand, will be forever growing.