RED BANK, New Jersey — Name an emotion and Alex Brown experienced it during the month of November.
Sorrow and exhilaration. Helplessness and confidence. Frustration and determination.
The Red Bank Catholic High School senior ran the gamut and came out on top because two of his best qualities remained intact: faith and courage.
After losing his mom, Michelle, to a lengthy battle with cancer Nov. 11, Brown quarterbacked the school’s football team to three playoff wins and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association Non-Public Group B championship.
The Caseys won the title with a 13-8 win over DePaul Catholic High School in Wayne at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford Nov. 26.
The night after Michelle died, Brown scored eight touchdowns in a victory over Morris Catholic High School of Denville. The next week, he scored two more TDs against St. Joseph Academy of Hammonton. Against DePaul, he ran for the winning touchdown.
Brown assured that his mom was by his side the entire time.
“Oh, 100%,” he said. “Not just the three playoff games, but I feel her every day. … I’m just glad she’s with me because nothing would be able to happen without her and God.”
Rajahn Cooper has played four years with Brown and was hardly fazed by how the quarterback got stronger as the circumstances became rougher.
“Alex didn’t surprise me at all this year,” Cooper said. “This is the Alex I know, and I think the best of him came out in these big times and big games.”
The first obstacle Brown (and Cooper) faced this year occurred when Mater Dei High School of Middletown shut down its football program last summer. Suddenly, one of the state’s top quarterbacks was unsure of where he would be playing his senior season.
“I was in shock,” said Brown, who will play at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania next year.
“I didn’t know what position I was going to be in. I had no idea what to think,” he told The Monitor, the news outlet of the Diocese of Trenton.
Brown and his father looked at a couple of other schools with teams “and we ended up choosing RBC, and it was the best season of my life.”
Being at Red Bank Catholic also helped Brown in another key area of his life.
“Going to Red Bank Catholic kind of opened my eyes a little bit, not just religiously but spiritually,” he said. “My mom was always a spiritual person. So, I leaned on her angels and it gave me a little more peace just praying and knowing she was listening. It was pretty awesome.”
As for the gridiron, once he and the other Mater Dei transfers became comfortable with their new teammates, Red Bank Catholic reeled off eight straight wins before falling to Donovan Catholic of Toms River to close the regular season. The three playoff wins followed.
Despite being a newcomer, Brown became an instant leader for the Caseys.
“He’s a kid who started for three years,” coach Mike Lange said. “He knows what’s going on here. He’s a good kid, the kids respect him, they get along with him.”
On the field, Brown’s teammates quickly followed his lead. Off the field, they knew he was dealing with his mother’s illness. His teammates wept for him and supported him when Michelle died. They marveled at how he dealt with her death.
“He’s definitely one of the kids who is mentally tough,” teammate Alex Bauman said. “He just stepped up in every way. We supported him through everything. With the passing of his mom, we were there for him and we rallied around him.”
Brown admitted that football served as an outlet as he helplessly watched his mother, with whom he was extremely close, slip away.
“Each day, each night I would get the game plan ready, talk to the guys, make sure everyone’s ready. I just locked in each week, day in and day out,” he said. “This sport kind of allows you to do certain things that you’d never really be allowed to do in life. I think that’s the beauty of it and I’m just so grateful for it.”
Many may not have realized that during the playoffs Brown also was handling many media requests while dealing with his grief. After his remarkable game against Morris Catholic, outlets including ESPN and CBS as well as local newspapers were seeking interviews. He responded with maturity, class and support from friends, family and coaches.
Though it took time for him to negotiate the media requests, Brown said that he was moved hearing stories, even from strangers, “about people they knew who had family members with cancer; loved ones that died.”
“I just wanted people to know that there is hope in the world, there is a lot of inspiration. I just wanted to help out with that,” he said.
Despite the attention, Brown’s ego never grew. He remained focused on his teammates and was kept humble by Michelle’s spirit.
In summing up the wild ride, Brown said, “It’s pretty intense, it’s hard to put into words. I’m just glad I got it done with my guys and my family. Ending up winning the state championship just ties it all together for the perfect story.”
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Fisher is a contributing editor for The Monitor, news outlet of the Diocese of Trenton.