There’s a slight difference of opinion between Americans and the rest of the world when it comes to the meaning of the word “football.”
But it doesn’t matter if you mean American football, or if you mean association football, better known in this country as soccer. Either way, Robert Brown’s got you covered.
Last fall, Brown did double duty, playing 26 matches as a midfielder and defender on the Granite Bears’ soccer team, while also checking in each Friday night for placekicking and punting duties on the football team. His soccer team posted an 23-2-1 record and reached the West Regional final, while his football team went 14-1 and reached the 1AA state championship game.
Along with all of that winning, Brown pulled off the rare feat of being named All-State in both sports during the same academic year. The N.C. Soccer Coaches’ Association chose him as one of 12 members of its 1A All-State team (it doesn’t choose an overall team), while NCPreps selected Brown as a specialist on both its 1A and overall All-State football teams, meaning Brown beat out everyone from the 2A, 3A and 4A teams around the state for the spot.
“I had been trying reach these goals since I came here,” Brown said of making both All-State teams. “It was a milestone that I had been trying to achieve. Getting All-State in soccer was probably the tougher task for me, in all honesty. Getting the all-classification All-State in football was a big deal for me. It’s a dream I’d had, and I’m glad I got to realize it.”
After wrapping up his senior football season last December, the 5’8”, 165-pound senior still had a season of baseball left to play in a Mount Airy uniform, but it was always clear that Brown would play collegiately, and likely at the Division I level, in some form of football. For the longest time, he and everyone else thought it would be the kind you play with the round ball. But as he continued to excel with the oval ball on the gridiron, it grew on him.
On Friday, March 9, Brown signed with Campbell University in a signing ceremony with six of his teammates on the Bears’ 2017 state runners-up. Although he could certainly play either sport, or even both, in college, he will stick to the pigskin from now on.
“I have to say football has taken the cake. It used to be soccer but it’s turned into football the past few years,” said Brown.
Brown’s outstanding performance in both sports drew interest from numerous college programs across the country. Locally, he was pursued by Division I FCS programs Elon and Davidson in addition to the Camels, and also had interest from some Ivy League programs. He decided to stay close to home and chose Campbell.
“Campbell just stuck with me,” he said. “I chose Campbell because they have great academics, it’s not too big of a school, and they have a lot of options for a school that size. They have a medical school, a law school…really, whatever you want to do, they have.”
The Fighting Camels are members of the Pioneer Football League, a Division I FCS conference that also includes Morehead State, the school that teammate Ian Holder signed with. Campbell finished third in the league last year with a 5-3 mark (6-5 overall). It was only the second winning season for the Camels since bringing back football in 2008 after a 58-year hiatus.
“From an athletic standpoint, their football program has been making leaps and bounds, getting better over the past few years and my brother played there, so I’ve been there and I just appreciate the people there,” said Brown, who will be a pre-med major.
Perhaps even more importantly, Campbell returns a strong contingent of players for 2018 and could be in line for its best season of the modern era of Camel football. However, the team’s kicking specialist is graduating next month. Brown, who ranks fourth all-time in North Carolina high school football history with 238 extra points and fifth all-time with 30 field goals, could conceivably earn the nod this fall and be a four-year college starter, just as he was in high school.
Brown has been a four-year varsity starter in both football and soccer for the Bears, and also possesses three varsity letters in baseball. Four of his teams, two in football and two in soccer, reached the West Regional finals, and he completed his high school football career in the state finals.
He said his most memorable win on the football field occurred in his sophomore season. Mount Airy was facing North Surry, and had dug themselves into an early 12-point hole. The Bears spent the rest of the night trying to fight back, and a last-ditch drive down 15-13 had reached the Greyhounds’ 23-yard line with 10 seconds remaining. In a game that both Brown and his long-snapper, Corbin Robertson, described as one of their most memorable, Brown took Robertson’s snap and drilled a 40-yard field goal to win the game.
“The biggest win, the best feeling after a win, was when we played North Surry in my sophomore year in 2015 and I made the game-winning field goal,” he said.
Mount Airy’s soccer team reached the regional finals that year as well. The Bears took a step back in 2016, but were one of the state’s best 1A team last fall. Mount Airy opened the season 17-0, reached No. 1 in the state at one point, and ended up tied with Bishop McGuinness for the Northwest 1A Conference title. However, the Bears lost a tiebreak shootout for the No. 1 playoff seed, and had to beat three other conference champions on the road in the state playoffs.
“I wasn’t feeling great about out playoff draw in soccer, but we went out and won some tough games on the road,” he said. “It felt good getting back to the regional finals and I wish we could have won, but it was a great season.”
Even though Bishop ended up winning a rubber match from the Bears in the West Regional final, Brown, who had 10 goals and eight assists on the season, received the nod as the 2017 Northwest 1A Conference Player of the Year.
The brilliant football season going on at the same time was just icing on the cake.
”In football, you dream of making it to the state championship,” he said. “Again, I wish we could have won, but we had some really enjoyable moments for sure.”