Penn State running back Journey Brown was prepared to build off his late-season success in 2019 and improve his NFL draft stock when doctors discovered a medical condition that threatens to sideline the redshirt junior for the entire 2020 season.
However, Nittany Lions coach James Franklin has not closed the door completely on Brown’s chances of getting back on the field.
“This thing isn’t decided yet, based on the statement we put out and kind of where we’re at with everything,” Franklin said Tuesday at the first of his weekly in-season Zoom news conferences. “So this is still to be determined.”
When asked if there was a possibility Brown could play football this season, Franklin read aloud the football program’s statement released Monday night “to be clear again.”
“Journey Brown is being treated for a medical condition discovered during the offseason and will potentially – potentially – miss the 2020 football season,” he said.
Brown’s medical condition was not disclosed.
The 5-foot-11, 217-pound Brown led the Nittany Lions in rushing last season with 890 yards, a 6.9-yard average and 12 touchdowns. He stood out in the team’s last five games, rushing for 593 yards, an output that included a program bowl-record 202-yard performance in the Cotton Bowl win over Memphis, where he was named the outstanding offensive player.
Franklin said that the adversity Brown has faced in his life, which included the deaths of his grandmother, two aunts, an uncle, two cousins and a close friend since he began his college career at Penn State in June 2017, has prepared him “with all the necessary tools to battle this situation as well.”
“I know he’s going to handle this thing like he handles everything else,” he said. “He does it in a first-class way and tries to stay positive and focus on the blessing. We’ll see how this whole thing plays out. I do know he’s got 120 brothers that love and support him. He’s universally respected and loved by his teammates, his coaches and the staff.”
While Brown is not practicing, Franklin said he is on the sideline every day encouraging and boosting the confidence of the four running backs – sophomores Noah Cain and Devyn Ford, and freshmen Caziah Holmes and Keyvone Lee – who will compete for playing time.
Brown was rated in July by Pro Football Focus as the No. 6 running back of those eligible for the 2021 draft. PFF said he has the speed and the natural ability but needs to show more “polish” and to improve his pass receiving. Brown caught 15 passes last season.
The football program announced the rollout of its “Penn State United” campaign to promote unity, beginning with Saturday’s season opener at Indiana.
The Nittany Lions will wear a uniform patch, helmet stickers and warmup shirts showing a logo of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with interlocking hands in the school colors of blue and white. A news release on the campaign said the logo is to “symbolize our journey for unity” with a goal “to construct a culture of respect, appreciation and empathy for all differences.”
“We felt that we wanted to do something that showed our unity,” Franklin said. “That’s the important thing for us. This is a topic that you have to be careful about because the last thing you want to do is take part in things that are divisive. It’s about bringing everybody together … hopefully being a leader in our country on this topic.”
Freshman wide receiver Parker Washington, a four-star high school recruit from Sugarland, Texas, has earned a starting berth according to the first Penn State depth chart of the season released Tuesday.
Redshirt freshman Joey Porter Jr., won the battle for a starting berth at cornerback.