Donovan Brown is the “other” quarterback in this championship game.
He’s the shorter one, the less celebrated and less accomplished one. He’s the one with the modest numbers compared to the fantasy-football totals accumulated by Jake Browning, the national record-setting Folsom High School passer whose Bulldogs oppose Brown and the Grant Pacers on Friday night at Sacramento State.
At stake in this Northern California Division I Regional title bout for the 14-0 programs is a lifetime of bragging rights and a bus ride to Carson for the CIF State Division I championship Dec. 19.
Oh, and a chance for Brown to score another one for the little guy, high school athletes told they’re too small to compete on the big stage of college football. Friends and Grant coaches call Brown “Little Big Man” because that’s exactly what he is. Small in stature at 5-foot-9, but strong and explosive for a 165-pounder, the senior competes with an unparalleled motor, his teammates and coaches say. And Brown salivates at the role of underdog and braces for the bite of the Bulldogs.
“Oh, man,” Brown said, “a dream come true. What a great challenge.”
Brown’s favorite player was Dano Graves, The Bee and MaxPreps National Player of the Year in 2010 who led Folsom past Grant in the section playoffs four years ago and to a state title. And Graves is 5-9.
“I loved his game, a little guy who runs well, passes well, and he reminds me then of me now,” Brown said. “I appreciate guys like that.”
Grant appreciates Brown, who leads the Pacers onto the field every Friday, bearing a confident, stoic expression, carrying the team flag. And Brown led the charge on Sunday when the Pacers went through Del Paso Heights to rake leaves, pick up trash and tidy up yards for neighbors, their effort to give back to the region.
“It always feels great to help out,” Brown said. “It’s the least we can do, and it comes with our role.”
Brown threw two touchdown passes to help Grant beat Vacaville 49-26 in a Sac-Joaquin Section Division II semifinal. In the section title game against St. Mary’s on Friday, he fired a 41-yard touchdown strike to Ariyon Huff to keep the Pacers in it, then scored on a fourth-down, 1-yard keeper for a 21-14 win.
Brown has passed for 18 touchdowns this season. The 6-2, Washington-bound Browning can muster that many scores in about three games, as he’s gone for a nation-leading 82 this season to go with a national-record 220 for his career. No matter, the Pacers say.
“Donovan is the perfect quarterback for us,” Grant coach Mike Alberghini said. “I love the kid. He’s given us everything he’s got.”
Added Pacers linebacker TieNeal Martin: “Donovan Brown, that’s our guy. I’ve known him since we were in youth football together, and he loves to lead. Nothing rattles him.”
Not even an exhaustive school writing project. While some may flinch at tackling a six-page paper, Brown invites it, said Grant English teacher Jeanette Providence.
“Donovan dove in, and he didn’t give me six pages, he gave me 12,” Providence said. “Donovan will work with his peers, kids that are friends or those he doesn’t really know, to encourage them, to go over a paper, and he’ll be in the library with them until 10:30 at night. He’s a natural-born leader, a thinker. I’ve seen his intellectual side, and he’s a diamond.
“We want Donovan to go to college, but that shouldn’t be the only goal. Graduate, then get advanced degrees, and then come back and serve your community.”
Brown wants to do all of that. His goal is to teach and coach at Grant. But he doesn’t know where he’ll attend college. College programs don’t knock down doors for sub-6-footers, though Brown has been accepted to a number of schools based on academic merit.
Beaming all the while is Brown’s father, a Grant lineman in the 1980s.
“My son, oh my goodness,” Donald Brown said. “I’m just so proud at what he’s done as a student, how he’s stepped up as a player. He’s heard it all, too – too small, doesn’t have the arm, can’t see over the line when he throws. But he makes plays, and he wins. I’m an over-protective parent, but I know he’s OK out there competing. I’m leaning in my seat, trying to inch the ball into the opening, and I feel for him when he gets intercepted.
“That kid amazes me. I remember when he was in youth football and he told coach Alberghini, ‘Coach, one day, I’m going to win a championship for you.’ Donovan had confidence and pride even back then.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.