REDFIELD — Vincent Brown Jr. had a year of NFL playing experience under his belt in 2012. Yet, something just didn’t feel right to him during a preseason game.
“My second year, going into the Cowboys game, I remember sitting on the sidelines, I looked to my left and my right, and it was like there was no business why I’m out here,” the Chargers wide receiver explained to the congregation at a San Diego church two months ago. “I don’t know why I’m out here. I didn’t feel like God was with me. It was letting me know that I was going to go through something.
“I wasn’t where I needed to be especially with my Lord and savior. I came to a standstill in my faith. And that’s a dangerous place to be.”
Brown played anyway and scored a touchdown. But what happened during the play would have a profound effect on his career and his life.
“I remember going up for the touchdown. I scored the touchdown,” Brown told the church. “I remember as I ran to the back of the end zone, the guy dove behind me. Right as my leg came down, the guy’s shoulders ran right through my leg, breaking my ankle.
“It was the two loudest breaks I ever heard: ‘Crack! Crack!’”
The injury occurred two years ago this coming Monday.
Brown was expected to miss at least six weeks of regular-season action, but instead he missed the entire season. More immediately, he knew the injury was message sent from above.
“As soon as I hit the ground, the first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Lord I hear you,’” he said. “I knew that whole process was something I needed to go through in order to get back right with God and use the platform he’s given me to glorify His name and show other people he desires a relationship with people.
Brown called the following three weeks the worst of his life as he was dealing with limited mobility. At that point, Barbara Walker went from NFL mom to just a mom.
“When he got hurt, I wasn’t worried about anything else that had to do with football,” she said. “I just wanted to be there for my son.”
Walker, 56, is a Redfield resident and author who works as an at-home secretary. She recently released a book, “It’s In the House,” that gives those interested in her profession advice. On the cover, she proudly identifies herself as “Mom of 2011 NFL Draft Pick Vincent Brown, San Diego Chargers.”
She and Vincent, now 25, moved to Pine Bluff from his native California in 1999, when her husband at the time became pastor at a local church. V.J., as Barbara affectionately calls her son, spent three years in town, playing youth football for the Ravens, but always had a desire to return to the West Coast where his father lives because of the “culture shock” he experienced here, according to his mom.
Even at an early age, V.J. knew football wasn’t just a game to him. It was his higher calling. He felt he had strayed away from a relationship with God at the time of his injury.
“Ever since I ever played football, every time I stepped on the field, I always knew God was with me,” Brown told his audience. “He was always my strength, my rock. I’m not the biggest, fastest guy by any means, but I always knew if I put my faith and trust in God, he would carry me through every game, no matter how big somebody is or whatever it is.”
Shortly after he completed Belair Elementary (which has since become a middle school), Brown returned to California and eventually played high school ball in Rancho Cucamonga, located 39 miles east of Los Angeles. He earned a scholarship to San Diego State, where he set a Poinsettia Bowl-record 165 receiving yards in a 35-14 win over Navy, the Aztecs’ first bowl appearance since 1998.
“It was the defining moment knowing that we finally did something,” said Brown, who also left as the school’s third-leading receiver all-time.
The Chargers drafted Brown in the third round as the 82nd overall pick. He had 329 yards on 19 receptions in 14 games as a rookie, and bounced back in 2013 with 472 yards on 41 catches in all 16 games.
Brown did not play in Friday’s 41-14 preseason loss to the Seattle Seahawks, as most starters are usually held out until the games count. (Pine Bluff native David Johnson had one catch for 7 yards for San Diego.)
Meanwhile, Walker, a Columbus, Ohio, native, lives a busy life in Jefferson County. A pianist for 50 years, Walker plays the keyboard at Family Church in White Hall. She plans to release a CD of her playing and singing and hopes to launch her own bakery product, “Rena’s Butter Rolls” — named after her late paternal grandmother — in December.
She’ll be hard to find at church on Sundays during the NFL regular season. She attends most of the Chargers’ home and away games; otherwise, she turns her residence into what she calls “Chargers Central” and has her son’s game blaring through her TV.
Still, Walker says she maintains a fairly quiet life of an NFL mom.
“I think my reason is because I am just coming out of a divorce, and I have not been able to get to a lot of other events (that may be set up for family members of NFL players),” she said.
She’s been an at-home secretary all of her son’s life. But those who inquire about her book don’t limit their questions to such business, and she proudly gives credit to a higher power.
“The book actually deals with the business itself, even though I get a lot of phone calls from mothers for advice (on helping children turn pro),” Walker said. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t do anything beyond what a normal mother would do for her children in sports … support, pray. This was God’s doing. And, it’s marvelous in our sight.”