HINESVILLE - Two large Samoans roll up to the field house at Bradwell Institute in a Ford Ranger, crammed in the cab as if they were both poured in.
Siliga Brown exits the driver side, showing no signs of slowing down despite the flaming August sun directly overhead. His son Chester, a senior at the high school, steps out next and is every bit of the 6-5, 330 pounds he is reported to be.
“This is my boy,” Siliga says. “He’s going to Georgia.”
The man, wearing a Bulldogs cap, repeats himself, talking over the hums and bangs of nearby construction work on a new locker room facility.
Siliga isn’t replicating the same sentence to boast — it’s one of the few phrases he’s comfortable saying.
Chester is fluent in Samoan and English, and acts as both translator and storyteller.
Regardless of the language spoken, the two have a remarkable story to tell.
Chester Brown with his father Siliga. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)
Chester Brown was hot, sweaty and exhausted, his long hair pulled back in a messy ponytail.
He’d just completed his first ever football camp — Dawg Night in Athens on July 15 — and the Bulldogs' offensive line coach Will Friend asked Brown to hang around while other campers and parents were heading to their cars.
“I was thinking I had to wait because the coaches wanted to talk about how Dawg Night went,” Brown said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”
Up until that point, the day had been a flow of firsts for Brown. He made his initial visit to a major university, taking a tour of the campus, athletic facilities and and eventually introducing himself to John Theus — one of the top players in the 2012 class.
“At first I didn’t know who he was,” Brown said. “They were telling me about him and I said, ‘OK, so he’s the one from Florida.’ I’d been hearing a lot about him.”
While Theus was clearly the best lineman at the event, Brown quickly began to draw notice. Barely anybody knew who he was or where he was from. He displayed good footwork and was vicious with his hands. A move from tackle to guard brought the best out in Brown, and soon even Theus wanted to meet the kid.
“He was telling me he was going to commit to UGA,” Brown said. “I thought that was cool because I told him if I got an offer I would commit, too. He said we could probably be roommates when we went off to college. I thought that sounded good.”
Theus’ word was good — he followed through and committed, along with four others, shortly after the camp ended.
Through all the excitement, Brown was waiting, hoping for news that he’d performed well at the camp.
“I didn’t expect anything,” Brown said. “When the coaches came over there, they offered me a full scholarship.”
Brown, joined by his uncle Napoleon, was emotionally stirred.
“I was just thinking, ‘I’m going to school for free,’” Brown remembers. “It’s a big college. It’s a well-known college. Going there will be huge. It’s amazing. I was speechless, and I didn’t know what to say or anything. I was, like, kind of broke down in tears and just thinking about going to school for free and not having to worry about paying for anything was big for me.”
He wanted to commit on the spot, but he needed to get back to his parents first — back to the unlikely place he now calls home.
Chester Brown during a photo shoot with Dawg Post. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)
Chester Brown was hot, uncertain and ready to move back home in the summer of 2004.
He’d just arrived in Hinesville, a town of roughly 30,000 people juxtaposed by close-by Army base Fort Stewart.
“Man, when I first got here, the first thing I knew was Georgia is hot. It’s very hot,” Brown said. “It’s just flat out hot, dry, the humidity is horrible.”
Diversity abounds in this community — military towns are usually a good mix of cultures and people of many different backgrounds.
How the Browns ended up here wasn’t easy but was necessary. Too much death and violence forced the family to leave their home of nearly a decade in Long Beach, Calif.
“When Chester was there growing up, a lot of kids that were Samoans and his age were shot and killed,” Siliga says in his native tongue as Chester translates. “I didn’t want that to happen to my kids. I wanted them away from that fast life.”
Things were so bad, Siliga and his wife, Ifo, had trouble sleeping at night due to stress over the safety of their kids.
“Where we lived out there was a lot of gangs, shootings and stuff,” Chester said.
Financial difficulties brought the Brown family to the United States from Samoa in the mid-1990s. In fact, already with four boys and a girl before Chester was born, the Browns were faced with some tough decisions.
They nearly gave their youngest son to a family member for adoption — a maternal uncle already living in California named Chester was supposed to take the newborn in, hence the non-traditional Samoan namesake.
“But things didn’t go right and they didn’t end up adopting me,” Chester said. “I had to stick with the name though. I like it.”
Long Beach proved to be a place Siliga did not wish to be, but moving such a large family wasn't easy. He turned to his brother for help.
Napoleon Brown worked in the military and told Siliga about his new residence in Georgia, 2,500 miles away.
“At first my uncle was military, but then he retired and still loved (Georgia),” Chester said.
“I wanted to look for a state that Chester could go to school in and be safe,” Siliga said. “I didn’t want him to experience the gang life anymore. Georgia was a good place.”
And so the family picked up and moved, having never been to Georgia and not knowing what to expect.
“It was more emotionally difficult because leaving all my family to come to Georgia — there was only one family member here,” Chester said. “That was very emotionally difficult for us.
“At first I wanted to go back. But when months and years passed, I was OK with it. I was going to have to stay here. When I got used to it, I started liking the people and everybody around here. I started seeing the thing you guys have down here — Southern hospitality. I thought Georgia was starting to become a good place.”
The diverse town allowed for an easier transition and over time the Browns settled in. Money was still tight (the family still shares a single cell phone to this day), but soon Chester would stand out on an unforeseen platform.
Chester Brown during a photo shoot with Dawg Post. (Dean Legge/Dawg Post)
Chester Brown had a plan, and he was determined.
In August 2008, Brown entered the ninth grade at Bradwell Institute with education his main focus.
“My mentality was to go to class, do my work and graduate,” he said.
But Chester was bigger than most freshmen. Football coach Jim Walsh, always looking for an edge playing in the competitive 5A classification, approached Brown about coming out for the team.
“He’d never played football before,” Walsh told Scout.com. “We saw this big kid walking the hallways as a freshman, when I went up to him I said, ‘You need to play football.’"
“I was thinking that I didn’t have anything else to do after school, so I just came out there,” Brown said. “From that point on, I fell in love with football.”
Brown has started every game since. Powerful in the run game, the vicious hands Brown would showcase three years later at Dawg Night were evident early.
Siliga takes credit for the quick and powerful handwork.
“I boxed for two years professionally,” Siliga said. “I know how a person that plays a sport is, and I knew watching Chester that he going to get a scholarship. But I thought it was going to be a smaller community college or something like that.”
Georgia receivers coach Tony Ball, responsible for the coastal area of Georgia, first met Brown as a raw and powerful sophomore. He invited Brown to attend camp in the summer of 2010, but Chester couldn’t afford it or find his own ride up to Athens.
Missing the chance to perform in front of college coaches, Brown remained in relative obscurity.
“My parents never had a thought in their mind that football would be a ticket for me to go to college,” Chester said. “They just said, ‘OK, you go play football.’ It was something they wanted me to do because I had nothing to do after school. My sophomore year was more of, you know, OK, play football, then they started thinking about college. Junior year is when they got real serious. They said, ‘OK, what are we going to do?’ I wasn’t getting anything, no offers.”
A strong junior campaign opened the Browns’ eyes to what football could provide. Letters from all kinds of schools came in. And Georgia State offered a full scholarship.
Brown and his family thought about committing to the upstart program. They didn’t want the opportunity to pass by.
“My parents wanted me to commit to Georgia State,” Chester said. “We’d never been on the Georgia State campus.”
A trip to Athens this past summer with his uncle Napoleon would take care of the worry. Finally.
Brown became the second offensive line commit of Georgia’s 2012 class shortly after Dawg Night.
Five days after receiving the offer from the Bulldogs, Chester finished his goal to go to college for free.
“I went back home and talking to my parents and telling them about how the coaching staff was and everybody was, from that point on they fell in love with it,” Chester said.
Siliga and Ifo, brothers and sister, a good many cousins, and his uncle Napoleon were all overwhelmed with Chester’s bright future. His commitment took a burden of worry off an entire family, and his reaction was the release of all his relatives’ emotions.
“We broke down crying,” Chester said. “My uncle knew the situation my family was going through. He just broke down crying. He said now we didn’t have to worry about paying for college. The hard part for them is giving me up to go to college. All the other stuff — paying for books and all that stuff, that’s taken care of.”
“I never thought it would be Georgia,” Siliga admitted. “Before Chester committed to Georgia, I was a Georgia fan. I just liked the way they play because we watch Georgia games and I just like the way Georgia plays. I’ve seen Alabama and them, but they play with that cockiness like they’re the best. Georgia just goes out there to play to win. That’s what I like.”
Where would Chester Brown be had his family not moved to Long Beach? If he had been adopted by his mother’s brother-in-law? If Napoleon hadn’t found his way to Hinesville? If Walsh hadn’t recruited him as a freshman?
He could be dead. Or living with another family. If not for his future in football he "would have gone into the military, and it would have been hard,” he admits.
So many unfulfilled what-ifs led Brown on a track to becoming the first Samoan in Georgia's 100-plus-year history, according to the university’s athletic record keeping.
Chester Brown’s triumphant story is just beginning. Bigger and better things are projected to happen in the coming years. But for the family as a whole, times couldn’t be better.
“They are all happy because to be honest, out of all my family, I’m the first one to actually go to college on a full scholarship and actually go to college to play sports,” Chester said. “It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something that my family wished they wanted to do but they couldn’t because of money. Knowing that I’m the first one is pretty big. I feel like everyone is just now looking on to me.”
And as Siliga humbly reminds those who approach: “This is my boy. He’s going to Georgia.”
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