Seeking greatness: Southern Miss WR DeAndre Brown looks to make the leap beyond good

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DeAndre Brown didn't like what he saw as he watched his performance on game tape.

The Southern Mississippi wide receiver missed a key block downfield, preventing his teammate from ripping off a big gain. He even took a play off every now and then.

"I got pretty disgusted with myself," he said.

So he got out a notepad and wrote down all his faults and shortcomings while watching each of Southern Miss' 2009 games two or three times.

Think of it as his road map to the first round of the NFL draft.

He'll find out just how far he's come Thursday when the Golden Eagles open the season at South Carolina on ESPN. The Gamecocks likely will be the biggest, baddest defense Southern Miss and Brown will face this season.

The talented 6-foot-6, 240-pound Brown realized in the offseason he's been coasting at times, especially as he continued to recover from a broken leg last season.

To achieve his goal — the one predicted for him as a young teen who stood head and shoulders above almost everyone — he knows he'll have to do more.

For sure, NFL scouts who evaluate him when the draft rolls around — the junior's not sure whether he'll declare this year or stick around to polish his game — will be looking closely at how Brown performs against a defense from the elite Southeastern Conference.

Brown hopes they see a player who not only can make a leaping catch in the back of the end zone, but also one who can throw the touchdown-breaking block or lead two defenders on a wasted trip down the field.

His teammates hope they see that guy, too, because he's a game changer.

"That's the verdict that's out," quarterback Austin Davis said. "Is he going to do the little things that make great players great? I hope so. And I think he will. I think he's going to realize that that's what it takes. That's what everybody's waiting to see."

Coaches and fans have been predicting great things since Brown first starting catching footballs in Ocean Springs, Miss. He was on everyone's list, including that of Ellis Johnson, the South Carolina assistant head coach who was a Mississippi State defensive coordinator.

"He's a very talented player," Johnson said. "I remember him coming out of high school."

How could you forget a kid like Brown? Already towering above defenders, he could dominate a game. He was a member of the so-called "Big Three," the trio of unbelievably large and talented wide receivers in the 2008 recruiting class that included Julio Jones of Alabama and Georgia's AJ Green.

Brown surprised almost everyone by turning away from LSU and joining Southern Miss and coach Larry Fedora's spread offense. He then had a breakout freshman season like everyone expected, catching 67 passes for 1,117 yards and 12 touchdowns. But then he broke his leg at the New Orleans Bowl.

Doctors warned that Brown was so tall he might not ever heal properly and it cost him a big chunk of 2009. Even though he was back on the field after sitting out the first game, the pain and lack of endurance limited him until November.

He helped the Golden Eagles make a run at the Conference USA title game and clinch a bowl, finishing with 785 yards and nine touchdowns to lead the team. Along the way he's made a highlight reel of crazy catches as he dominates much shorter cornerbacks and safeties. They stand out on game tape.

"He's made big plays on a lot of teams," Johnson said.

Brown participated in the offseason training program for the first time in college, and says he feels stronger than ever. Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora has seen signs of that.

"He continues to improve each and every day," Fedora said. "He makes plays here and there that make us go, 'Wow.' I think our expectation level for him is high and so the standards are very high. We expect the most day in and day out for him, and I know that's a difficult thing for a young man. But if we don't expect those things from him they'll never happen."

Brown is sure they're going to happen — whether this year or next, it doesn't matter. He thinks he could be one of the best, with just a little more effort.

"I feel like I would be there with the elite, the Randy Mosses, the Terrell Owenses, Calvin Johnsons, Brandon Marshalls, just being the next big receiver," he said. "Those guys have made a name for themselves and I've watched tape on them as much as I've watched tape on myself just to try to take some of the things that they have in their game today and try to put it in my game."


AP sports writer Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.