Bryce Brown has been called a lot of things over the past four years.
Superstar. Freak. The best.
But over the past week, many of those positive comments have turned negative after Brown, Rivals.com's No. 1 player in the nation, held off choosing a school on National Signing Day. He will make his decision known March 12.
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Brown, a running back from Wichita (Kan.) East, suddenly was being called a prima donna on TV, in newspapers and on radio shows from coast to coast. A Feb. 3 article in The New York Times quoted his high school coach, Brian Byers, as saying Brown was "always about him and then everybody else."
Brown is used to having people break down his game, but criticism of his character, motives and effort have been tough to swallow.
"It's not even really about building the hype," Brown told Rivals.com. "I've been doing this football thing for a while now. My freshman year, I jumped on the scene, and ever since then, I think the hype has always been there. Hype has nothing to do with [delaying the decision]. It's obviously a big decision, and it's an important decision not just for me but for my family as well.
"I want to find a program that's going to be committed to me for life and not just the three or four years that you are there. You want to be connected with good people because these are people you're going to be associated with after you graduate. These will be your real friends when you graduate. You want to be around great people."
Brown knows there will be second-guessing about his college intentions, but he said he is troubled by the talk that he wasn't supportive of his high school program. Byers told the Times that Brown wouldn't even stretch with his teammates in his junior season and that team chemistry was nonexistent because Brown would not play hard after he padded his stats.
Brown disagreed with Byers, who did not respond to a message left by Rivals.com at the high school.
"Absolutely, I'm a team player," Brown said. "When Coach Byers brought in a spread offense, I really didn't agree with it but I did everything Coach Byers asked me to do. It was the best for our team, obviously.
"There was never a time that I didn't want to be out on the field. I don't care if we were blowing them out 60-0, I wanted to be on the field, having fun and being with my teammates. It's my senior year, and a lot of the guys that I played with this year have been with me since my freshman year. My brother's class and the '09 class is what really started off East being a special program."
Brown, who graduated at midterm, wanted it made clear he has no issues with Byers and that he enjoyed his time at East.
"I don't have a problem with Coach Byers," Brown said. "If that's really how he felt, it took him two years to say it. That's his deal. I don't go to East anymore and I don't have any hard feelings, but some of the stuff he said really surprised me because it was absolutely false.
"I loved every second I was there with my friends and teammates, and I wouldn't trade it for anything."
The next step for Brown is to finally figure out is college choice.
Bryce Brown, the nation's top prospect, talked about each of the schools he is still considering on Tuesday:
"At night when I go to sleep, I try to imagine myself at each school. When I think about Oregon, I go to sleep and I feel like that's the place for me." – Brown on the Ducks
"Some of the stuff he was talking about – putting me out in space, and allowing me to get matched up with linebackers and cornerbacks one-on-one – sounds good, but inside something just tells me that his philosophy or the way he does things isn't what I really like." – Brown on meeting Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple
" … I don't think that Tennessee has enough players to be successful at what they're trying to do." – Brown on the Vols
"Obviously, being in L.A., that's strong from marketing." – Brown on USC
"I don't want for someone to throw the program on me. What if it turns out that I'm not, you know, the guy? Then people are going to point the finger at me." – Brown on Kansas State
Brian Butler, Brown's mentor and advisor, hinted in the Times' article that Brown might consider bolting for the CFL instead of playing college ball. It's a statement he later retracted, and Brown said he and his family never have given the CFL a serious thought.
"My parents don't even know what the CFL is," he said. "I love school. Education is important to me. It's something me and my brother both strive to be excellent at. I'm an honor-roll student with a 3.816 GPA. I just enjoy the school atmosphere and being around people."
Brown remains committed to Miami, but he said over the past few weeks that Oregon – thanks mainly to the efforts of coach-in-waiting Chip Kelly – has become a serious candidate. Clemson, Kansas State, LSU, USC and Tennessee, which he will visit this weekend, also are options.
"Oregon is just a place I see myself at," Brown said. "At night when I go to sleep, I try to imagine myself at each school. When I think about Oregon, I go to sleep and I feel like that's the place for me. But I know I'm not in tune with my spirit, and my spirit is heavily involved in this. I'm praying, and I have people praying for me.
"I really like Coach Kelly, and he wants the best for me. It's not even really about football anymore. If I don't choose to go to Oregon, Coach Kelly and I are still going to have the relationship. Anything I need, any questions I have, I know that I can call him. He truly and genuinely wants the best for me."
Brown still insists he's committed to Miami, though there's a chance he might not take an official visit to Coral Gables.
"It's not completely out that I don't use that visit to Miami, but I don't see me using that visit there now," said Brown, whose brother, Arthur, was a freshman linebacker at UM this past season. "I wouldn't necessarily say they're out because I've seen it. I know everything about the program and I've gotten a chance to meet the offensive coordinator [Mark Whipple, who was hired late last month]. That will all be weighing in on my decision."
Brown said he met with Whipple face to face before the dead period started.
"We basically talked Xs and Os," Brown said. "It's kind of hard for me to say what the offense is going to be like. Some of the stuff he was talking about – putting me out in space, and allowing me to get matched up with linebackers and cornerbacks one-on-one – sounds good, but inside something just tells me that his philosophy or the way he does things isn't what I really like. He did say he'd use all of my talents, though."
Tennessee has made up a lot of ground on Brown's list, coming into the picture following the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, but he said he's not sure what to think about the Vols quite yet.
"I talked with Coach Lane Kiffin, and coach Jim Chaney [the offensive coordinator] came down to visit me," he said. "They talked about the old USC stuff when Coach Kiffin had Reggie [Bush] and LenDale White. I want to be around good players, and I want to have the most players and best athletes on the field as my teammates because it makes it hard for the defense to stop the offense. With Tennessee, they want to get to that, but I don't think that Tennessee has enough players to be successful at what they're trying to do."
If Miami doesn't get the final visit, LSU or USC will.
"I really like USC," Brown said. "I really like coach Pete Carroll. He's a real, real laid-back coach. For somebody to get that much attention, he's really, really cool. They like to compete. I like being around great players. I want to be able to compete every day in practice knowing that everybody around me is willing to work. Obviously, being in L.A., that's strong from marketing.
"I don't really know much about LSU other than what my brother said when he went down there last year. LSU came in second to Miami on my brother's list of colleges, and it was really, really hard for him to turn down. I don't know much about it other than the things he told me about the game-day atmosphere."
Brown said Clemson and Kansas State remain viable options. While Brown visited Missouri, the Tigers are out of the picture.
Brown said there is pressure on him to stay in-state and play for Kansas State.
"I like coach Bill Snyder, and I like the coaching staff they put together," Brown said. "I feel like they're building a foundation, and the people around them and the fans believe Coach Snyder is going to turn that program around. But me, I don't want for someone to throw the program on me. What if it turns out that I'm not, you know, the guy? Then people are going to point the finger at me."
People already have been, though, and that's what has turned Brown's recruitment into a soap opera.
"I can't wait to get the visits done, and then it will be time," he said. "I'm ready to put all of this negative stuff behind me and let people start saying positive things again."