BRAWN AND BRAINS: No-nonsense sophomore nose tackle Brown emerging as defensive menace for Wildcats
NOSE FOR THE BALL: Temple sophomore nose tackle Ayden Brown has made 14 tackles in the Wildcats' last two games, highlighted by his eight stops in their 44-34 comeback victory against previously unbeaten Harker Heights last Friday at Wildcat Stadium. The 6-foot, 250-pound Brown, who earned varsity playing time as a freshman, maintains a 4.5 grade-point average while taking advanced classes. Temple (3-2, 2-0) seeks its 11th straight District 12-6A win when it plays Killeen Ellison (2-3, 1-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Killeen's Leo Buckley Stadium. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
If you’re looking for someone who likes to goof off, crack jokes and talk trash, then Ayden Brown probably is not your guy.
As a 15-year-old sophomore, he’s the starting nose tackle for the Temple Wildcats’ defense and maintains a 4.5 grade-point average with a heavy load of advanced classes, including algebra, chemistry and U.S. history.
That doesn’t exactly leave Brown – whom Temple head coach Scott Stewart describes as “very intelligent” – with a lot of spare time to either get distracted or become a distraction.
“Ayden’s very serious. We’ve noticed that when he’s around his friends, he’ll open up a little bit, but he’s a fairly serious kid,” Temple defensive coordinator Dexter Knox said about the 6-foot, 250-pound Brown, a first-year starter who last season earned a varsity letter as a freshman.
“He’s no-nonsense, and I think he gets that from his mom. She doesn’t play. She’s definitely on him about academics and doing right, which I definitely appreciate. He does what he’s told. He’s all about his business.”
Brown certainly handled his business during Temple’s first two District 12-6A games as the Wildcats seek to repeat as league champions and record their ninth consecutive playoff berth. He made six tackles and forced a fumble in the district-opening 49-7 win at Bryan two weeks ago, then last Friday night he made a career-high eight tackles – two for losses – to help Temple rally from a 21-0 second-quarter deficit and defeat explosive Harker Heights 44-34 at Wildcat Stadium.
“My first couple of games, I was just starting on varsity and I didn’t really know much. Now I feel more comfortable with the team and my position on the team,” said Brown, who’s made 23 tackles as Temple’s youngest defensive starter. “I’m just trying not to get pushed back. I’d rather have (offensive linemen) on me than on our linebackers, so they’re free to make the stops.”
Added Knox: “Ayden played really well (vs. Harker Heights). They were running a lot of outside zone on a stretch and were trying to cut (block) him on the back side, and he was doing a really good job of scraping and getting across. That’s a testament to (defensive line coaches) Coach (Robert) Havens and Coach (John) Matthews. They do a good job and those guys are coming along well.
“You go back and think and it’s like, Ayden’s just a sophomore. We feel like he’s been here forever, because he rotated up and down as a freshman. (When he’s a senior) we’re going to feel like he’s been here forever.”
Stewart was Temple’s defensive coordinator for two seasons before he was promoted to the Wildcats’ top job in 2016, and Brown enjoys playing for a defensive-minded head coach.
“I love it. He knows that the offense is going to go score points, but he knows that the defense is what’s going to win the championships with not letting the other team score,” said Brown, whose Wildcats (3-2 overall, 2-0 district) carry a three-game winning streak into their matchup with Killeen Ellison (2-3, 1-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Killeen’s Leo Buckley Stadium.
Stewart is known to joke around and take good-natured jabs at his players. Brown is an ardent fan of Baylor, where his cousin Ashton Logan – a former standout safety for Temple from 2014-16 – is a fifth-year senior outside linebacker. So before Baylor hosted then-nationally ranked Iowa State on Sept. 25 in Waco, Stewart decided to needle Brown a bit.
“Ayden doesn’t talk much at all. He walked up and I said, ‘The Bears can’t handle the Cyclones.’ He just looked at me but didn’t say anything, which is about right,” said Stewart, who had to eat some crow after Baylor prevailed 31-29. “Then Monday he came up and goes, ‘Hey Coach, what about them Bears?’ I was like, ‘Look at him, talking trash.’ He loves Baylor.”
Brown confirmed that if he earns an opportunity to play college football, he wants it to be for the Bears, whose roster includes another Temple graduate in junior defensive lineman TJ Franklin.
“Baylor, of course,” he said while wearing several rubber wristbands with Baylor logos. “I just love the atmosphere and culture up there, and it’s close to home."
Brown entered high school at 225 pounds, and Temple’s coaching staff deemed him ready to at least begin his freshman season on the varsity level.
“Ready is a relative term. When we talk about looking at freshmen on varsity, it doesn’t happen very often and usually if they’re not ready physically, they’re not even in the conversation,” said Stewart, who started a pair of freshman defenders in 2019 with safety Mikal Harrison-Pilot and linebacker Taurean York. “You can have the greatest mindset in the world, but if you’re not ready physically, nothing good can happen. I felt like Ayden could handle it physically. The cool part about him is he’s mature beyond his years.”
Brown got playing time in Temple’s season-opening 40-13 victory over Longview at Arlington’s AT&T Stadium and also played in district wins against Copperas Cove and Killeen, but he spent the majority of the season on the Wildcats’ top freshman squad.
“Coach didn’t want me to waste my freshman year just sitting on the bench behind the seniors,” Brown said. “Of course (the competition at the freshman level) was easier, but there were some (opponents) who were freshmen and now they’re on varsity. I practiced with the varsity, so I was comfortable with them.”
Brown’s freshman season ended in the district finale against Killeen when he suffered a patellar tendon injury in his knee while trying not to land on the quarterback. He didn’t require surgery and said offseason rehabilitation allowed him to regain full strength.
After missing Temple’s 38-0 home win against Waxahachie in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game, Brown suited up but did not play in the Wildcats’ 56-28 area-round loss to eventual Region II finalist Rockwall-Heath at Baylor’s McLane Stadium.
HANDS-ON APPROACH: Temple sophomore nose tackle Ayden Brown grabs and tackles Harker Heights junior running back Re'Shaun Sanford II during the Wildcats' 44-34, come-from-behind victory in last Friday night's District 12-6A battle at Wildcat Stadium. The speedy Sanford sprinted for touchdowns of 76 and 23 yards, but Brown made eight tackles as Temple's resilient defense limited him to 106 yards on his other 27 carries. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Brown said he absorbed significant knowledge last season by watching then-senior nose tackle Jayven Taylor, a first-team all-district performer whose aggressive, smart play helped propel Temple to back-to-back district championships. Brown said those pointers he picked up from Taylor now are pushing him to become a better player in a physically demanding position.
“Jayven Taylor was a big mentor – how he used his feet, where he placed his hands on the offensive lineman and his block destruction,” Brown said. “(I’m) way better (this season). I feel like I’ve grown a lot more with my block destruction. When I got double-teamed I’d probably get pushed back my freshman season, but I can hold it now.”
After making a combined nine tackles in Temple’s non-district games against top-ranked Austin Westlake, still-unbeaten Magnolia West and Hutto, Brown began to emerge as a difference-maker in the Wildcats’ 12-6A opener in Bryan.
His six tackles were highlighted by a second-quarter stop of Vikings runner Tate Allen, forcing a fumble that senior linebacker Faylin Lee recovered, leading to a 28-yard touchdown run by senior Samari Howard for a 14-0 lead.
“I had gotten a down block, so I played it, I came off and he was right there. I hit him and just ripped (the ball) out. We practice that a lot,” explained Brown, whose defense didn’t allow any points. “We practice it all day, every day during the week. We knew since they were bigger that they were going to try to bully-ball us, but we felt we were the better team and we proved it.”
Said Knox: “Ayden’s not an outwardly intense guy. He’s inwardly intense. If he gets mad or frustrated, he’s going to be quiet and laser-beam focused, like, ‘I’m about to go get after it and everybody leave me alone.’”
Another major litmus test arrived for Temple in last Friday’s home showdown against previously unbeaten Harker Heights, whose big-play offense came in averaging more than 500 yards per game.
After hulking receiver Terrance Carter caught touchdown passes of 19 and 38 yards from Dylan Plake and speedy running back Re’Shaun Sanford II scored on a 76-yard sprint, the Knights owned a 21-0 lead 3½ minutes into the second quarter.
The situation seemed bleak for the Wildcats as their defense returned to the stunned sideline, but Brown then recalled that Temple had stormed back from a 20-0 second-quarter deficit against Heights to seize a 38-36 last year in Killeen.
“Some of us were kind of worried, but Coach Knox came over there and told us that we were fine. I was thinking that it happened last year, too, so it was like, ‘If they can do it, we can, too,’” Brown said. “It was just miscommunication. We can’t leave our defensive backs out there. Our D-line has to get more pressure. We can’t give the QB all that time.”
Temple responded swiftly as Harrison-Pilot threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to senior Devan Williams to get the Wildcats on the board, and Harrison-Pilot added a 7-yard TD run with a minute remaining as they sliced the Knights’ halftime advantage to 21-15.
“That boosted us up because when the offense comes off the field and they’re all excited, we’re like, ‘We’ve got to keep it going.’ So we’d go out there and get a stop, and it’s one of the best feelings,” said Brown, whose defense allowed 21 points in the game’s first 16 minutes but only 13 points in the final 32 minutes.
Sanford added a 23-yard touchdown run with 8:25 left in the fourth period for Heights’ final score, but aside from his two TDs the Wildcats limited the dynamic junior running back to a respectable 106 yards on his other 27 carries.
“He’s fast. I mean, I missed a couple (of potential tackles) at first, but then I just figured out where to hit him, how to tackle him and it happened from there out,” Brown said about defending Sanford.
Brown became more active and physical as the game proceeded, shedding blocks and making forceful tackles up and down the line of scrimmage. That cooled off the Knights’ potent attack and bought Temple time in the second half before Howard’s 55-yard touchdown sprint gave the Wildcats the lead for good with 7:36 remaining.
Stewart commended the job Brown did in helping Temple’s defense bounce back from its difficult start.
“Ayden played very well,” Stewart said. “Where Heights hurt us was the highway (between the numbers). What they’ve done effectively all year long is that when somebody takes away the highway, those cutbacks are there. And because Ayden and (senior end) Eric Shorter and those inside guys did a very good job when Heights did try to cut back, it just wasn’t there.
“When they tried to run it inside, it wasn’t there. Where they hurt us was getting outside and it was just the angles and speed that got us.”
Brown said the Bryan game had been his best varsity performance, until his strong play in the comeback victory over Heights eclipsed it.
“Their center was another sophomore and I know I had dominated him last year on the freshman level,” Brown said. “So I just thought, ‘If you’re going to keep putting him in front of me, I’m going to keep showing you what I can do.’”
After York’s 76-yard fumble return for a touchdown with 1:11 left sealed Temple’s dramatic win, the Wildcats and their fans had reason to celebrate.
“Yeah, it was kind of a block party after the game,” Brown said, smiling.
Knox is impressed by the strides Brown has made since Temple started with home losses to Westlake and Magnolia West in which the Wildcats’ defense spent too much time on the field.
“The first few weeks he was feeling his way out still. He was kind of banged up and I think he’s getting healthier and understanding his blocks more,” Knox said. “What he’s doing a really good job of right now is getting separation. He’s getting off of blocks and then going and making a play. He was a little sticky early, letting guys get on him and stay on him. He’s doing a really good job on block destruction.”
Brown is joined on Temple’s starting defensive line by senior tackle Tommy Torres and junior end Jaylon Jackson, with senior end Dion Saunders and junior tackle Aiden Malsbary providing effective play in reserve.
“I love Tommy. He holds his position so I can come over the top,” Brown said of the 6-5, 255-pound Torres, a returning starter who blocked a Heights field goal attempt to begin the fourth quarter. “He doesn’t get pushed back, so it’s easier for me to work over the top.”
Stewart said Brown reminds him of former Temple defensive lineman Robert Jackson, a three-year starter who starred for Wildcats teams that reached one 5A Division I state championship game and two other regional finals from 2015-17.
“Now Ayden’s just going to get strong. Every single week he’s going against guys bigger than he is. That’s a testament to what he does in the weight room and his technique. It’s very akin to Robert Jackson,” Stewart said. “It was hard to do anything against him. RJ was dismissive as a senior. It was like, ‘Your best bet is to double-team me, and I’ve been in the weight room long enough to at least hold that. But all the other cute stuff you’re doing . . . nah.’”
Brown hones with game not only by working hard in the weight room but also by actively studying NFL star defensive tackles such as the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Fletcher Cox.
“I’m way stronger now (than last season),” Brown said. “That’s how I know I’m getting better at my craft, if I know I can do what Aaron Donald does – explosiveness and pushing people off the ball.”
Stewart certainly sees Brown maturing all the time as an all-around defender. “Ayden’s very good at block recognition, which gives him a better chance at block destruction. That’s what’s going to improve as his body develops, but the cool part is that he knows what he’s looking at,” Stewart said. “You might knock him off the ball, especially on a power scrape or a double team, but you’re not going to fool him.
“He’s really good about pulling across the chokes when they pull a guard and pick back at him. It’s not as developed yet, but Robert Jackson got to where he wouldn’t even engage the block. That’s something Ayden can add as he plays more.”
Knox said effort and attention to detail are two of Brown’s strong suits.
“He’s a strong kid and he’s going to work his butt off, now. He’s all about his business,” Knox said. “Coach Havens and those guys, they work over and over on block identification and block destruction, and Ayden’s getting better at both of those. That’s our mantra for defensive line play.
“I think you’ll look in the latter part of this year and next year and when he’s a senior and see that he’s going to be somebody that’s hard to block. Ayden’s a very cerebral kid.”
Brown, who will turn 16 on Dec. 19, puts his brain to good use in the classroom, immersing himself in challenging courses – with a steady push from his mother.
“I take all advanced classes. My mom’s pushed me to get good grades since I was little,” Brown said. “My favorite is chemistry because of all of the experiments we get to do and I just love knowing how it works.”
Said Stewart: “His behavior suggests that he has that kind of discipline. You can’t just jump into an AP class just because you want a better chance at college. You’ve got to qualify for those and you’ve got to maintain, and he does a great job.”
Brown also finds time in his busy schedule to compete in four sports for Temple: football, basketball, powerlifting and as a shot put thrower in track and field.
That’s fitting, because competition is what drives him to succeed, with one eye on his future.
“It’s 6A and we’re going to play the best of the best, and I like the competition because when you get to college, that’s all it’s going to be, is competition,” Brown said. “You’re facing the top guys that you’re going to see on the next level. It’s just preparing me, showing me what the talent’s going to be like up there. It’s getting me ready, so I like it.
“(I’m focused on) getting better every game and getting more tackles and sacks, anything to catch their eye. I can play at any school if they need me.”
Of course, Brown still has a lot more good football – 2½ seasons – to play before he leaves Temple. As bright as his future might be, he’s a true student of the game who is thoroughly enjoying the privilege of playing for the Wildcats in their distinctive blue-front, white-back pants.
“This town has a lot of tradition. Our players get that, our coaches get that and they just push us to be the best we can be,” Brown said. “Temple’s tougher, I feel, than the rest of the teams we play."