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May 19, 2019

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high school football:

Football is in the Brown family’s blood

Brothers at Eldorado follow in the footsteps of their father, grandfather

The Brown Family Tradition

Mona Shield Payne

As the sun sets, Eldorado running back Justin Brown continues working with his dad, head coach Vernon Brown, as they prepare for the Cleat Game rivalry contest against Chaparral during practice at Eldorado High School Wednesday, September 13 2012.

The Brown Family Tradition

The Brown family, from left, Vernon Brown Sr., Sundevil quarterback Joshua Brown, Sundevil running back Justin Brown and head coach Vernon Brown stand together for their three-generation love of football at Eldorado High School Wednesday, September 13, 2012. Launch slideshow »
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Vernon Brown spent part of this Eldorado High School football practice working with the team’s three running backs.

Brown, the Sundevils’ third-year head coach, seemed to be extra vocal when encouraging one of the players. Later in the practice, he moved to a quarterbacks drill and brought the same energy when teaching Eldorado’s sophomore signal caller.

You can’t blame Brown for having a little extra pep in his step this week.

Eldorado’s most significant game of the year kicks off at 7 p.m. tonight when the Sundevils play at Chaparral in the annual Cleat Game. The game, which ranks as one of the nation’s most historic high school football rivalries, has been played since the 1970s, when Los Angeles Rams great Merlin Olsen donated his cleat for the game.

Both schools have missed the playoffs the past seven years, turning the annual rivalry into a Super Bowl of sorts for the players. It’s a game they wait all year to play, knowing the experience of being part of the tradition is something they’ll never forget.

For Brown, this year’s game carries extra importance.

The running back with which he was so stern is his son, Justin, a senior. The sophomore quarterback is Vernon Brown’s youngest son, Joshua.

This is the first season the brothers have been on the same football team. This also is the lone season they’ll compete together for the cleat.

Click to enlarge photo

The Cleat is the prize for the winner of the annual football game between Chaparral and Eldorado.

“(The game) means a lot to us,” Justin Brown said. “We have won it three years in a row. We don’t want to lose. I want him to win all four years, too.”

Vernon Brown doesn’t have to look far for coaching advice, especially when it comes to having a son playing a prominent role in a big game.

His father, Vernon Brown Sr., is one of the Detroit area’s most respected coaches, spending more than three decades on the sidelines at Cody High and coaching his sons during their high school careers. Brown Sr., who is retired, is visiting from Michigan and will be in the stands for today’s game.

A comparison of the generations of Browns reveals similarities.

Vernon Brown Jr. played all over the field for Cody High in the late 1980s. In his senior season of 1989, Cody had a star freshman on the team: his brother, Marlon Brown, at defensive back and quarterback.

“As a father coaching your sons, everybody is looking at you,” Vernon Brown Sr. said. “A lot of people will feel he is out there just because. One man told me: ‘Never apologize for your son being good. If he is good, he is good.’”

Vernon Brown Jr., like his father, played college football at Western Michigan. When he finished playing, he followed his dad to Cody High, eventually becoming the head coach. Most of his football philosophies are borrowed from his father, especially the one trait that makes Brown Jr. extremely popular at Eldorado: his loyalty to the players.

When he left Cody for the job at Eldorado, Vernon Brown Jr. didn’t leave alone. There are three former Cody players on the Sundevils’ staff.

“He believes in the kids and giving kids every opportunity,” said Quincy Burts, a varsity assistant who played for Brown Jr. and was taught by Brown Sr. at Cody High. “He’s a great teacher, a great motivator. He is a guy who has been through all of the ups and downs, just like the kids. He gives the kids motivation and the belief factor. They know he is going to put them in the right position to succeed.”

Vernon Brown Jr. spent endless hours of his childhood breaking down game film with his father, learning the ins and outs of the sport at a young age. The same can be said for Justin and Joshua.

Not many sophomores start at quarterback on varsity teams, but Vernon Brown Jr. had no problems turning the offense over to his younger son. That’s because Joshua Brown is well beyond his years — just like the coach when he was in high school.

“I would get up in the middle of the night sometimes and watch film with (Brown Sr.). I would also ask, ‘Why is he doing this? Why is he doing that?’” Vernon Brown Jr. said. “The young one, Joshua, does the same thing with me. He is always asking questions.”

For Eldorado (1-0) to be successful, both Browns must have a strong game. Justin Brown likely will touch the ball 30 times out of the Eldorado backfield.

The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Justin Brown runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash and has recruiting interest from Utah State and UNLV. He has the ability to take over the Cleat Game on one play.

The brotherly bond gives them an advantage.

“He tells me what to do and how I can do better,” Joshua Brown said of the film preparation. “If he doesn’t see something (on tape), I can see it.”

Winning will be easier said than done. Chaparral (2-1) entered this season with just one victory in the past three years but always puts up a fight in the rivalry game. Last year, Chaparral led at halftime. Two years ago, it led by double digits early, but Eldorado rallied to win by one in overtime.

“Chaparral will always be ready to go,” Vernon Brown Jr. said. “I remember watching those guys run off the field last year at halftime and saying, ‘One more half. One more half.’ When they lost, they took it hard. Seeing how devastated they were after losing, you really understand how big this game is.”

It’s also easy to see how significant it is for a father and his two sons.

Ray Brewer can be reached at 990-2662 or [email protected]. Follow Ray on Twitter at

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