The halfback pass became less of a trick play and more of a recurring feature in TJ Ewing’s offense last football season.
Elk Grove (Calif.) Monterey Trail’s head coach thought more creativity would better utilize Prophet Brown’s wide-ranging skill set. On three occasions, Brown received the pitch from his quarterback and threw for a touchdown.
Brown’s utility role also involved him spending time at quarterback, running back, wide receiver, cornerback, safety and nickelback. Division I programs mostly project the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Brown at cornerback or running back.
Those happen to be the two of the biggest positions of need for Notre Dame.
Adding Brown would provide the Irish a safety net at both positions, even if they land their primary cornerback targets and top priority in four-star running back Will Shipley. That Brown’s football offseason involves track and basketball encourages Ewing that he wouldn't just be insurance.
“I don’t do the year-round football thing, so he still has a lot more upside,” Ewing said. “He’s not like a 7-on-7 guy who runs, plants. He still has so much more to grow, which is scary. You look at his film, and this kid gets away from guys. If he’s coached at a position every day, I can’t imagine how good he will get.”
The differing opinions between 247Sports and Rivals on Brown could be considered polarizing. 247Sports tags Brown as a four-star running back, pegging him No. 14 at the position and 180 overall in the 2021 recruiting class. Rivals offered Brown a 5.6 rating, their lowest distinction for a three-star player. He ranks as their No. 9 all-purpose back.
As an offensive player, Brown turned 64 carries into 779 yards and 11 touchdowns, and caught 17 passes for 343 yards and five scores in 12 games. He also tallied 17 tackles, five pass breakups and three interceptions.
Notre Dame favors Brown at cornerback, a position he now prefers.
“I’ve been playing corner since my sophomore year on varsity,” Brown said. “So I have more experience at that position. I feel like that’s the position where I could learn the most and take my game to the next level. I feel like I have a lot of untapped potential with technique and all that. If I get the right coach and situation, it could be deadly.
“But if I really, really want to go to that school, I will make the adjustment and play where they need me to play.”
Cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens will need to succeed this cycle. His predecessor, Todd Lyght, left him with a position group plagued by questions and inexperience after perpetual recruiting misses. Graduate senior Shaun Crawford and junior TaRiq Bracy are Notre Dame’s only two corners who have played high-leverage snaps.
Former running backs coach Autry Denson and Lyght often developed their talent to exceed expectations. But landing the nation’s top prospects at their position groups proved to be a challenge.
Lyght signed only four cornerbacks in five recruiting classes who were ranked in the top 20 at their position on either Rivals or 247Sports: Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride Jr. in 2016, Houston Griffith in 2018 and Isaiah Rutherford in 2019. He failed to sign a cornerback in the 2017 class after losing verbal commitments from Paulson Adebo (Stanford) and Elijah Hicks (California).
None of the six running backs to sign under Denson were ranked as four-star recruits or higher by either Rivals or 247Sports. His successor, Lance Taylor, helped sign four-star running back Chris Tyree last cycle but will still need additional help at the position.
“I think Notre Dame would be right in terms of recruiting that (type) of talented guy,” said Ewing about Brown’s two-way projection. “Saying, ‘Pack up the corners, put them all at the position and see who wins. Whoever doesn’t win it plays another position.’ It’s hard to find that type of kid, with the grades and the athleticism.”
Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, Nebraska and USC joined Notre Dame in the top six list Brown released in late March. Brown said his list of schools show how important tradition and branding are to him.
The communication Brown said he receives from the Irish and Mickens ranks top three among the schools courting him. The spiritual part of Notre Dame’s culture also attracted Brown. His parents named him Prophet and his brother Bishop for religious reasons.
The combination of football, academics, culture and feeling like a priority made Brown interested in Notre Dame despite having never visited campus and being from the West Coast.
“Isaiah Rutherford, he’s out there playing corner. He’s from out here,” said Brown of the Notre Dame sophomore from nearby Carmichael (Calif.) Jesuit. “So I know that it can be done for people out here to go out there. It’s inspirational to see that.
“I’m open to (leaving the state), because I want to see other places. I don’t just want to be in California my whole life. I want to experience different weather. That’s definitely something I’m looking into.”
The Irish are likely to receive much-needed answers on the recruiting trail before Brown comes to a decision. He plans to announce a commitment following his senior season after visiting at least a few schools. Notre Dame hopes to host him for a game this fall.
“Just to see the place and get a feel for the campus and all the coaches,” said Brown on what he wants to accomplish once he treks to South Bend. “Basically seeing where I would be spending the next four years of my life. That’s basically what’s left on looking at these colleges, these visits coming up.”
The two cornerbacks who appear to have the most realistic chance of landing at Notre Dame are Gaithersburg (Fla.) Quince Orchard’s Ryan Barnes and Los Angeles Loyola’s Ceyair Wright. Shipley’s expected to announce a commitment to either Notre Dame or Clemson within the next couple weeks.
The other options don’t seem promising, though the Irish could circle back on former targets like Cincinnati Roger Bacon running back Corey Kiner. Even if Shipley, Barnes and Wright came to Notre Dame, Brown’s recruitment will be worth tracking because of what he could bring.
“I love moving around and playing all over the field and having all these jobs,” Brown said. “It makes the game fun. It’s literally like playing around with your friends at a park. That part of it is definitely fun.”
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