Elijiah Brown was considered one of Mecklenburg County’s best middle school athletes three years ago. He was a nationally ranked basketball player and a star defensive end on Piedmont Middle School’s football team.
Upon his arrival at Providence Day as a freshman in fall 2014, Brown expected instant stardom and college football coaches lining up to recruit him.
Only, that didn’t happen.
“It was frustrating at first,” said Brown, a 16-year-old junior whose Chargers will play at rival Charlotte Latin Friday night. “But I told myself I would just keep grinding, doing what I had to do and it would pay off.”
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Brown played defensive end and tight end as a 6-foot-3, 220-pound freshman. But the more Providence Day coach Adam Hastings watched him, the more he was convinced Brown would be better off switching positions. His sophomore season, Hastings moved Brown to defensive tackle and to the offensive line.
Brown has flourished in those roles this season, better able to use his 6-4, 270-pound frame more effectively, despite often facing double-teams. Last week, Brown’s first scholarship offer came from Wake Forest. Coaches from North Carolina and Wake Forest came to watch him in the Chargers’ 60-0 win against Victory Christian Friday, when Brown recorded a sack for a safety. The next day, he made an unofficial recruiting visit to Clemson.
“We saw this coming,” Hastings said. “We knew his body frame was going to make him a big-time defensive tackle, and he’s grown into it. Best of all, he’s a great kid and has a wonderful work ethic. He sells himself. And his play has just gotten better and better every single week.”
Brown has 36 tackles, five tackles for loss and six sacks this season. He plays almost every down for the Chargers, including on special teams.
“He fulfills a bunch of roles for us,” Hastings said. “When we got here, he was a defensive end. I said, ‘Everybody that will recruit you will recruit you as a defensive tackle. You’re not a 4.5 or 4.6 (second 40-yard dash) guy. Let us move you and prepare you for that.
“I think it all changed after that. It took him some time to adjust, but as the year went on last year he really began to flourish.”
Hastings gives much of the credit for Brown’s development to lineman coach Otis Moore, a former Clemson player.
Colleges apparently like what they see.
Hastings said Brown has been recruited hardest by Clemson, North Carolina, South Carolina and Wake Forest. But Maryland, Michigan State, Northwestern and Virginia are also showing strong interest.
“He’s the type kid that wherever he’s going to go, he’ll make the place better,” Hastings said. “He’ll enrich the locker room and enrich the team. He’s one of those guys I don’t worry about. Wherever he goes, he’ll do an amazing job.”
Brown said he’s pleased to see his hard work paying off and his recruitment picking up. He said he plans to add 15 pounds of muscle before next season. Until then, he has big goals for himself and the Chargers (2-3), who won a state championship five years ago but started 1-3 this season.
“I wouldn’t say all this recruiting stuff happened as fast as I thought it would,” Brown said. “But I feel like the wheels just started to turn and now everything is set in motion. But right now, I really want to focus on my team.
“We had a slow start, but as we’ve gone on our chemistry has gotten really, really good and I feel like we’re going to dominate conference play.”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr