Brown, No. 11 Georgia’s senior running back, is taking 21 hours this semester so he can graduate in December and concentrate fully this spring on preparing himself for the NFL Draft.
“I was trying to keep that quiet,” Brown said after Coach Mark Richt revealed the extraordinary workload this week.
Southern Cal quarterback Matt Leinart famously took one course, ballroom dancing, during the semester of his senior season. Georgia’s D.J. Shockley took two courses during his final football semester.
That’s more the norm, but Brown -- who is taking four speech classes, African literature and philosophy -- has never been normal.
“A lot of people were telling him, ‘Don’t even try to do it,’” Richt said. “He thrives on people telling him he can’t. I don’t know what makes him tick the way he does, why he feels like he has to prove something. I don’t know what it is, he just has this mental toughness that is not matched on our team or since I’ve been here really.”
Ten months after tearing the ACL returning a kickoff against Vanderbilt, Brown started at tailback for the Bulldogs and rushed for 48 yards on 12 carries while gaining 80 yards on three kickoff returns. He also worked as a gunner on Georgia’s punt team.
Most players take 12-18 months to return from an ACL repair, but Brown was full speed by summer, he said. His physical and mental toughness have been credited for the quick return, but, like he has this semester, he also threw his mind into the process.
Within a week of his injury, Brown began doing research on knee repairs. The first thing he learned was he had a choice of replacing the ligament with either a graph from his hamstring or patella tendons or with an ACL from a cadaver.
Brown quickly ruled out the cadaver.
“That’s kind of weird,” he said.
He checked off the patellar graft because he has a history of patella tendonitis and didn’t want to worsen that situation. So he chose to have his replaced with a graph from his hamstring tendon.
“The only negative part about the hamstring is its takes so long for the hamstring to recover,” Brown said.
When it came time to talk with team doctors about his surgery and rehab, Brown was well prepared.
“I don’t think they expected me to ask as many questions as I did, but to me that’s a very serious injury, and I just wanted to put myself in the best position to be able to come back,”he said. “I didn’t want my injury rehab to be longer because of a lack of knowledge about what was coming toward me.”
No Bulldog player in the last 12 years has studied more about the process or worked harder to recover than Brown, said Ron Courson, Georgia’s head athletic trainer for that length of time.
“Thomas is a special individual,” Courson said. “He is a very disciplined individual whether it’s on the practice field or in the weight room or in his academics.”
Wide receiver Sean Bailey, who waited 21 months before trying to return from his ACL tear, was not surprised to see Brown back in the groove much quicker.
“If you look at him, he’s just a freak of nature, he’s just a ball of muscle,” Bailey said. “He has an extremely good work ethic, and he hits everything as hard as he can. He was determined to get out there.”
Richt was a little hesitant to let Brown return kickoffs this year because that’s how his knee was injured in the first place.
“But I wasn’t going to be the guy to tell him he couldn’t do it,” Richt said. “You just don’t want to do that.”