Alex Brown pushes his mother, Michelle, onto the football field for a better view during a game in Red Bank, N.J., during the 2021 season. CNS photo/courtesy the Brown family

Emotional journey ends with gridiron title

By  Rich Fisher, Catholic News Service
  • December 15, 2021

RED BANK, N.J. -- 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 mother, 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 championship.

The night after his mother died, Brown scored eight touchdowns in a victory over Morris Catholic High School. The next week, he scored two more TDs against St. Joseph Academy. In the state final against DePaul, he ran for the winning touchdown.

Brown assured that his mother was by his side the entire time.

“Oh, 100 per cent,” 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.”

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 losing a game 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 she died. They marvelled 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.”

Brown admitted that football served as an outlet as he helplessly watched his mother 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.”

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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