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September 28, 2006
Tide found a diamond on Emerald Coast
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Alabama junior Keith Brown was making route adjustments long before his emergence as one of the Southeastern Conference's top wide receivers.
When age restrictions prevented him from playing high school football in Mississippi, Brown ran a fly pattern all the way to the Florida Panhandle.
Brown played so well in his lone season at Pensacola (Fla.) High School that he earned a scholarship offer from the Crimson Tide. He enters Saturday's game at Florida with an SEC-leading 26 receptions for 410 yards.
"No telling where I'd be right now if I hadn't gone there," Brown said.
Brown headed to Pensacola three years ago in a last-ditch effort to continue playing high school football.
As a 19-year-old senior, Brown was too old to play in his home state of Mississippi. He and his mother moved to Florida, which allows students to remain eligible for high school athletics until they're 19 years, 9 months old.
Brown's first game at his new school turned him into a blue-chip prospect.
Pensacola opened that season against national power Lincoln High of Tallahassee, Fla. Pensacola coach Mike Bennett called for a long pass to Brown, who tipped the ball in the air before grabbing it on the way down and outrunning Lincoln's star-studded defense for an 80-yard touchdown.
"Sometimes we have people move in who just don't fit in with our kids," Bennett said. "He fit in, especially after that first play."
Brown finished that season with 56 catches for 1,310 yards and 15 touchdowns. He began to receive interest from Division I programs across the Southeast.
He ended up visiting Alabama along with another receiver from the Florida Panhandle — DJ Hall of Fort Walton Beach. They later made separate decisions to enroll at Alabama.
Brown and Hall now form one of the nation's top receiving tandems. The duo caught a combined 13 passes for 241 yards last week in a 24-23 overtime loss to Arkansas.
"Both are catching the ball as well as they ever have, knock on wood," Alabama coach Mike Shula told BamaOnline.com. "They both have a really good understanding of our offense, and both can play all four (receiving) positions. They're both really smart as far as understanding defenses."
Brown's emergence actually resulted from Hall's absence.
When Hall was suspended from last year's Cotton Bowl for a violation of team policies, Brown responded with a 76-yard touchdown catch on the second play of the game. He collected a total of five receptions for 141 yards in the Tide's 13-10 victory over Texas Tech.
The suspension also forced Hall to sit out this year's season opener against Hawaii. Brown caught six passes for 132 yards and a touchdown in that game.
"It made me basically step my game up," Brown said. "It made me be more effective."
Hall has since rejoined Brown to help give Alabama a surprisingly effective passing attack. Sophomore quarterback John Parker Wilson has thrown seven touchdown passes with only one interception in his first year as a starter.
Brown led the Tide in receiving each of their first three games with 19 catches for 313 yards. Hall picked up the slack last week by catching six passes for 144 yards and a touchdown.
"I think me and Keith are more experienced this year and we see things a lot clearer," Hall said. "We know what to look for know and we know when (we) are going to be open. We have a connection out there."
Brown also still has a connection to the high school that helped boost his profile.
During one spring break, Brown took time out from his vacation schedule to meet Bennett. They visited a local elementary school, where Brown talked to students about the importance of staying away from drugs.
Brown still calls Bennett on Friday nights to receive Pensacola High football updates.
"It's hard to find a better person than Keith Brown as far as character," Bennett said.
And it's hard to find a better receiver in the SEC.
Travis Reier and Matt Scalici of BamaOnline.com contributed to this report.