Kicking Off with the Brown Brothers
Jan 07, 2014 10:33AM
● By Anonymous
By Linden Wilson
In the spring of 1994, Southlake Carroll’s varsity baseball team was well into the playoffs. Up against Reagan High School — whose students hailed from the rural West Texas town of Big Lake — the Dragons would advance to the state semifinals if they won this game. Down by one run with loaded bases, Kris Brown stepped up to the plate. Yet the athletic junior, who was born in Irving and moved to Southlake before the start of his sophomore year and also excelled at basketball, track and football, struck out. While the team’s dreams of making it to state were dashed, the heartbreaking loss played a pivotal role in altering Kris Brown’s fate forever.
By the time the Reagan baseball team defeated the Dragons in the quarterfinals that spring, Kris had already won two 3A football state championships under the leadership of Carroll coach Bob Ledbetter, in 1992 and 1993 (Ledbetter led Carroll to its first state championship in 1988). As both a starting quarterback and kicker, Kris was clearly a standout on the football field and knew he had a significant passion for the sport.
“The pageantry of high school football in Texas is different than anywhere else,” he says. “The home games are so much fun, and there’s just a different energy with playoff games. Winning those two state championships was a dream come true. That’s the pinnacle of what you’re trying to achieve.”
Had the Dragons beat Reagan nearly 20 years ago, they would have played the next round of playoffs in Austin the following weekend — the same weekend the University of Nebraska held their football camp. Because they lost, Kris was able to attend. He demonstrated his skills to the Nebraska coaches, who were immediately impressed by his talent — they offered him a scholarship. “My life changed forever because I got to go to that camp,” Kris says.
In 1995, Kris began his freshman year of college, kicking off the first of four years he would start as the kicker for the Nebraska football team. That same year, his dad and stepmom welcomed their first child, a boy named Drew. Kris didn’t know it then, but his little brother — nearly 20 years his junior — would follow a similar path.
Kris’ football success continued during his undergraduate career — his team won two national championships, in 1995 and 1997, and Kris set a record as the all-time leader in points (388) and field goals (217) that wasn’t broken until more than 10 years later. During his senior year, he connected on 14 of 21 field goals and 47 of 48 PATs to finish the year with 89 points. During the 1998 Holiday Bowl against Arizona, he provided two field goals plus two extra points, and he rounded out the season as a second-team All-Big 12 selection.
In 1999, Kris graduated with a degree in education, and it wasn’t long before he achieved yet another milestone: The most accomplished Nebraska kicker in school history was drafted into the NFL in the seventh round, selected by the Steelers. His new wife, Amy, joined him in Pittsburgh, where he was a member of the team for three years.
Meanwhile, back in Southlake, Drew Brown was growing up in Dragon Nation, practically the home of all-star athletes. Not unlike his older half-brother, he played many sports, including football.
“I started at age 10,” he says. “I loved the competitiveness and the friendships that I made with my teammates.”
Drew soon realized an older brother who played professional football offered an advantage many other kids his age weren’t as lucky to have.
“It was so cool to have him in the NFL growing up because I was around football so much. I learned more and more about the game,” he adds. “He gave me some basics on how to kick and a starting point, and I excelled from there.”
In 2002, Kris left Pittsburgh for the Houston Texans, then in their first season as an expansion team. In 2007, he set a record — three field goals in a single game that each distanced at least 54 yards — that other kickers have since only been able to tie. Kris admits that tops his list of favorite accomplishments.
“It was such a memorable experience,” he recalls. “That day was just one of those days. I felt good and the ball was coming off my foot really well.”
Four years later, Drew, a sophomore at Southlake Carroll, was carving out a name for himself as a standout kicker in his own right (and, like Kris, a member of the baseball team). It was then, in 2011, that the younger Brown brother experienced what he calls his best memory: winning a 5A state championship after a 36-29 victory over Hightower at Cowboys Stadium. The following year, Drew made three field goals to beat Euless Trinity 16-7 during a quarterfinal playoff game that advanced his team to the semifinals. Although Drew’s senior season recently came to an end with a loss to Euless Trinity in the semifinals, he secured nine field goals and 89 extra points throughout the season. This past summer, Drew made the same move Kris made so many years before — he accepted a full scholarship to Nebraska, the third commit for the university’s 2014 class.
“I love the tradition and the people of Nebraska,” says Drew, who attended multiple Nebraska football camps throughout high school. “The atmosphere during games is electric and unlike any other school in the country. I will be closer to my grandmother and my brother and his family. The university is an amazing place to be.”
Just prior to his retirement from the NFL in 2012, Kris and his family — Amy plus their sons, Kolby and Burke, and daughter, Carly Bea — moved back to Omaha, just an hour’s drive away from Lincoln, where Drew will spend his next few years.
“I love the pace of life here,” Kris says. “The people are what really make Nebraska so special. It’s an unbelievable place to raise a family, and it has everything you’d need in a big city without the big city problems.”
Family is especially important to Kris, who now coaches his young sons in various sports. When he played for the Texans, he and Amy founded a charity called Kris Brown’s Kick Club, which partnered with local sponsors to donate money to the Texas Children’s Hospital for every point he scored. Over the years, they raised nearly $800,000 for a cause close to Kris’ heart.
“When we were young, my sister, April, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer,” he says. “I saw the struggles a family can face when a child is diagnosed with an illness like that, and I got to experience firsthand those challenges. One of the things I promised myself was that at some point in life, I was hopeful that I’d be able to help other families. Texas Children’s Hospital didn’t refuse service to any patient who walked through the door, regardless of their ability to pay.”
Kris Brown’s Kick Club donated the money to the hospital’s Charity Care program, which awarded funds to different families. It provided them with the financial resources to cover medical bills, so parents could stop worrying about paying for their child’s recovery and instead focus on future well-being.
Throughout his NFL career, Kris knew he’d eventually have to transition into something else upon retiring, so he completed several internships during the offseason for his first six years in the league.
“I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do while I was playing to make that transition go a little bit easier,” he explains. When Kris’ good friend, Zach Wiegert, an offensive tackle who played alongside him at Nebraska and in Houston, proposed a business plan to open a Dunkin Donuts in Omaha, Kris loved the idea. The coffee shop officially opened this past September.
“It’s good fun,” he adds. “It’s been a challenge. It’s different but also similar to football in some respects. You wake up every day and you’re still keeping score. It’s just a different medium of a game.”
Kris, who was recently inducted into the CISD Hall of Honor alongside former teammate Dane Johnson, says he can’t wait to see his younger brother excel at his alma mater and forge his own successful path.“Drew was just 3 years old when I left Nebraska,” Kris says. “He doesn’t really remember that time, but he was around Nebraska football at a very young age. His mom is from Nebraska, so he’s always been a really big fan. I can’t wait for my little brother to be able to run out onto the field at Memorial Stadium. With my family and I living so close, we’ll be able to see him play and mature into a man. I think that I’m most excited for Drew to get a chance to live his dream.”