Wilde Lake High School graduate Zach Brown has an opportunity to achieve something next month that will happen for just a tiny fraction of all the young men who play football. Brown, a standout linebacker at North Carolina, could be a first-round pick in the April 26 NFL Draft.
And if Brown's name is called early in the draft, it will be as much for his intense competitiveness as for his exceptional physical ability. The 6-foot-1, 224-pound linebacker was clocked in 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the recent pre-draft NFL combine in Indianapolis.
Former Wilde Lake High football coach Doug Duvall coached Brown for four years. Back then, Brown was a three-sport star athlete at Wilde Lake.
In Brown's senior year, he was a linebacker and running back rushing for 1,537 yards and 20 touchdowns; as a track sprinter, he won the Maryland state championship in the 100- and 200-meter dash, and as a wrestler, he went 29-0.
“He’s got character,” Duvall said. “He is really, really talented physically.”
But it was a moment on the wrestling mat that revealed Brown's intense competitiveness, Duvall said.
Duvall recalled being at a football coaches’ association meeting and was approached by another coach who said Brown was going to get whooped in an upcoming wrestling match. The other coach told Duvall that Brown’s opponent was nicknamed the “Beast of the East.”
Later, Duvall told Brown what the other coach had said. Duvall remembered Brown saying, “When I get hold of (his opponent), I’m going to rip his shoes off in the middle of the match.”
After the match, Duvall said he received a call from a wrestling coach friend who saw Brown wrestle. The friend said the ref had to stop the match at one point because the Beast of the East’s sister ran from the stands ordering a stop to the match. Then, when the ref restarted it, he had to stop it again when Brown started to take off his opponent’s shoes.
“Zach is not afraid to compete in anything,” Duvall said. “I always said, if it didn’t turn out football-wise we’d train him for the decathlon and let him compete in the Olympics.”
One time, Duvall said, Brown made up eight yards on a racer during the final leg of an 800-meter relay to win the event for his team. Duvall said he clocked Brown at 20.8 seconds in those final 200 meters, about a second off the current world record.
NFL draft projections place Brown from the middle-to-late first-round to the second round. CBS Sports has him as the No. 26 overall selction, ProFootball Weekly expects him to go in the second round, and Sports Illustrated has him at No. 18 overall.
Those lofty predictions are based both on Brown's college statistics and NFL combine performance.
In his senior year at North Carolina, he racked up 105 tackles, three interceptions and 5.5 sacks while starting all 13 games in 2011. At the NFL combine in Indianapolis, his 4.5-second 40-yard dash rivaled that of many running backs, and his combine profile declared he “might be one of the fastest straight-line linebackers to ever enter the NFL draft.”
At the combine, Brown’s 40-yard dash performance may have been slowed by a stumble he made at the end. Even so, Brown’s 4.5 tied him with the fastest time for an inside linebacker at the combine. But he may be able to do better. Duvall said Brown ran a 4.29-second 40 in the spring. If he could match that time before the draft, he’d be the fastest linebacker ever to enter the draft, according to NFL Draft statistics.
Regardless of Brown's draft position, Duvall said that Brown would be an excellent linebacker for any team.
“He plays football a little like he wrestles,” said Duvall, “Zach sort of just wraps ‘em up and down they go. They never gain any more yardage once he gets his hands on them.”
With his explosive speed, Brown will probably have little trouble getting his hands on opponents. Maybe this time he’ll let them keep their shoes on.