The next field goal new Cincinnati Bengals kicker Jon Brown makes will be his first. At any level.
The University of Louisville product, who signed a contract Sunday after a successful tryout during the weekend’s rookie minicamp, will be one of the more interesting stories during offseason workouts and, possibly, into training camp as the former member of the U.S. Soccer under-17 national team continues to reinvent himself.
“I just started kicking two years ago,” Brown said Monday afternoon as the Bengals began their fourth week of voluntary workouts. “I mean, I’ve been kicking a ball my whole life, but football is definitely a different approach.”
Brown played high school football in Clinton, Miss., as a wide receiver and kick returner, but soccer is the sport that earned him a scholarship to the University of Kentucky. After one year he transferred to Louisville, where he played one season before fellow Mississippi native Brett Baer, a kicker from Louisiana-Lafayette who was with the St. Louis Rams for one training camp, convinced him to try kicking.
“I went out there with him one day and we kicked a couple of balls, and at first it was kind of iffy,” Brown said. “I was getting way under the ball because I was kicking it like a soccer ball. But after like an hour-and-a-half of hitting, I started picking it up really quick. From there, I just prayed about it.”
Brown said something told him to look at the Texas A&M roster, and when he did he saw that Aggies kicker Josh Lambo was a converted soccer player. He took that as his sign, and when the soccer season at Louisville ended he moved back home to Mississippi and would drive nine hours round trip every Saturday to train with Baer at Louisiana-Lafayette.
He continued taking online classes at Louisville, and in the fall of 2014 returned to campus and walked on to the football team.
Behind Josh Wallace on the depth chart, Brown only played in two games that season and never did anything more than kick off. He played in one game in 2015 before suffering an oblique injury that ended his college career.
But Brown was healthy by the time Louisville held its pro day in March, and he kicked a 70-yard field goal as part of his workout. That got the attention of a Bengals scout, so the team brought him in for a tryout at the rookie camp last weekend, and he was one of four tryout players signed.
He said signing the contract validated his decision to switch sports.
“I played on the USA team and all that,” Brown said. “I was like top 40 for my class in the country out of high school. It was rough (quitting soccer). No black people kick. I was like, ‘I’ve never kicked before. The odds are against me.’ I tried to fight it for the longest, but God’s going to get you to do what he wants you to do. I’m just doing his will I guess. I ended up going with it, just kept the faith and it led me here.”
On Monday he worked out with Bengals kicker Mike Nugent, who said he was impressed.
“I learned a little bit about him, his background and stuff,” Nugent said. “He’s very good. He hit the ball very consistently. You can just tell if you talk to him for a couple minutes, you know he’s coachable. I’m really big on that. You can talk to a kid for five minutes and be like ‘all right, this kid’s not listening to me.’ But he was very coachable.”
The Bengals also have a third kicker on the roster in Zach Hocker, a second-year player who made 10 of 14 field goals in stints with the New Orleans Saints and St. Louis Rams last season.
Brown knows his chances of beating out both of them to make the team are slim, but he’s not about to turn around now.
“I do look at this stuff, but at the same time, it’s like the path I had to take to get here, I feel like I had to go through so much the last five or seven years of my life,” he said. “They were the only team to contact me.
“It was weird, too, but I was listening to Joel Osteen,” Brown continued, referring to the televangelist and author. “I was listening to one of his messages. The title was ‘A shift is coming.’ I was listening to that, I just felt it deep down. He was saying, ‘You’re one phone call away from your destiny. Your time is coming.’
“Thirty minutes later, that’s when the Bengals called me. I just felt like there’s been little signs like that. I just felt like this is the place I’m meant to be.”