STATE COLLEGE, Pa. –– Journey Brown thinks a lot about his why.

Why does he get up in the morning? Why does he play football? Why does he love football?

This past week, when his cousin, Paige Fabela, died at the age of 17, his list of whys grew.

“In my 24 years, I don’t know if I’ve been around a kid that’s overcome more adversity in his life,” James Franklin said about Brown’s loss.

After attending his cousin’s funeral Monday, Brown rejoined the team Tuesday to prepare for the regular-season finale Saturday against Rutgers.

“Just any other Tuesday,” Brown said after the game, recalling his week on and off the field. “When I’m in football, it’s football. I take care of the outside stuff when I’m outside football. When I’m on the football field, it’s football. I’m a running back at that point and I don’t think about nothing but that.”

“The family I have here at Penn State, those guys always supported me. I never felt alone up here when he passed away. They always have my back and same for them. I just felt like I had to put on for my little cousin Paige.”

Brown certainly did that and more as he rushed for 103 yards and three touchdowns in Penn State’s 27-6 win over the Scarlet Knights.

“That first touchdown, I knew I was playing for [Paige] today,” Brown said. “I get very emotional when I think about that kind of stuff.”

After each touchdown, Brown celebrated with his team because, as he said, “ The team comes first.” But each time he scored he had a moment to himself to reflect on all the people he has lost.

He credits not only his family members back home in Meadville, Pa., but also the family he has grown into at Penn State.

“That’s how I get through all the adversity I’ve been through in my life –– because of these people around me,” Brown said. “When I roll out of bed, I think about the people who are still here. I think about what I got to do for my family up here at Penn State and my family back home. That’s why I get up every morning. I know they would do the same because they sacrificed for me to get to this point.”

Penn State running back Journey Brown stiff-arms Rutgers defensive back Christian Izien in the first quarter.
Barry Reeger / AP
Penn State running back Journey Brown stiff-arms Rutgers defensive back Christian Izien in the first quarter.

Football serves as an escape for Brown.

It’s an avenue for him to channel his emotions and use them to his advantage on the football field –– something he says he learned to do at a young age.

“I use [my emotions] as power and that’s something no one can take away from me,” Brown said. “It always channels into football because that’s my escape. That’s what I love to do. I took all that energy and put it to my game. I just take how I love those people, how I love my family, how I love this family, and just channeling what I love to do, ultimately.”

But even with all of the adversity he has faced, Brown views it all in a positive light.

“You grow from stuff like this,” Brown said. “I’m just becoming the man I want to become by having mentors like Coach Franklin, Coach Seider and even the whole coaching staff. They help me pave my way and motivate me to do the things that I do.”

“There’s beauty in everything. Everything happens for a reason.”

Brown has 688 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns this season. He leads the team in both of those categories by far and has emerged from a crowded, four-man backfield as the team’s most consistent runner in recent weeks. Including his performance against Rutgers, Brown has rushed for 100 yards or more in three of the last four games.

The biggest reason? It’s confidence, according to Franklin.

“The guy rushed for 780 yards and 10 touchdowns in one game,” Franklin said. “It’s not like the guy lacks for ability. I just think he’s getting to a point where he’s confident with the scheme, he’s confident with his footwork, fundamentals, and technique.He’s a special, special kid.”

The way Franklin spoke about Brown after the game, it’s clear he thinks he’s a special person, not just a special football player.

When Ricky Slade broke off back-to-back impressive carries in the second half, it was hard to miss Brown jumping up and down on the sideline, cheering on Slade, whom he considers one of his best friends on the team.

There may have been a lot on Brown’s mind, but in that moment on the sideline, and each time he stepped on the field Saturday, he was able to escape it all. The family he has on the sideline certainly helps.

“Coming out here today, I was playing for the people I’ve lost. But at the end of the day, the team needs me,” Brown said. “I’m going to do whatever I can to help this team win.”