In high school, Raymond Brown had the makings of a great college athlete. He had talent; as a senior, his Maryland high school named him to his county’s all-star football team. He was versatile; as well as football, he could hold his own in basketball, baseball and track. And at 6’1″ and 200 pounds, he had the size.
But Brown also lived in poverty. He had an unstable home life, and he had to support himself by juggling jobs at an Outback Steakhouse and at RFK stadium in Washington, D.C., where he cleaned up after baseball games. The jobs took a toll on his grades.
“It was tough,” Brown said. “Some nights I had to stay at a friend’s house because of stuff going on at home, some nights I didn’t have stuff to eat. I just had to fight through it. I knew I was going to have to do everything myself if I was going to get where I needed to go.”
But in his senior year, Brown got help from a loving aunt and a generous local parent.
Now, Brown has stability. He has solid grades. He has a full-ride football scholarship to James Madison University.
C.H. Flowers High School, where Brown attended, was known for the athletic talent it produced, and its games were being taped by the Athletic Group, a Maryland firm that films and edits highlight reels to send to college recruiters around the country.
It was during the football season that Athletic Group co-founder Greg Peel took notice of Brown.
“Now the season’s going on, and I’m getting [interest] from every parent except for Raymond Brown’s,” Peel said. “I was like, ‘Wait a second, this kid is phenomenal, and we can’t just let this kid fall through the cracks.’ ”
Peel asked around, and he eventually learned more about the difficult situation Brown was in.
Peel found help from Patrick McCrea, a Flowers parent and a successful entrepreneur. After hearing Brown’s story, McCrea decided to pay for highlight reels for Brown and two other Flowers athletes.
During his senior season, Brown’s life off the field also took a turn for the better. His aunt bought a house, and Brown and his little brother moved in with her. She helped Brown buy a car and supported him in his studies. For the first time, Brown had someone in the stands cheering him on.
“She basically gave me the chance to be a teenager,” Raymond said. “Instead of me having to work everyday and worry about eating and stuff like that, I didn’t have to worry about those things anymore. She supported me.”
But because it was Brown’s first year playing football for Flowers, he couldn’t send out his highlight reel until winter break. Brown thought his late start would ruin his chances.
Then he returned to school in January to find a very pleasant surprise: an offer for a full-ride football scholarship from James Madison University.
“That was the biggest surprise of the year that they came out of nowhere and just offered me,” Brown said. “They just came off a national championship, so many people want to come to their school, and they chose me? That’s incredible.”
Things only got better for Brown, both on the football field and in the classroom. Brown made his school’s honor roll for both semesters of his senior year, and his football team took home the Prince George’s County 4A championship.
Now a red-shirted freshman, Brown is hopeful about his future.
“I just want to get on the field, I don’t care what position I play,” he said. “Also, I want to keep my grades up in the classroom. The teachers are so supportive towards football players. All you can do is be successful down here.”
Looking back, Brown appreciates how far he has come.
“I’m glad I’m in college because this is the first time I can say that I have some type of stability in my life,” he said. “I don’t think there’s another school for me. It’s wonderful down here.”