In recent years, the Penn State Nittany Lions have established a rich tradition of churning out running backs with tantalizing next-level ability. Saquon Barkley is an elite runner that holds the key to unlocking the Giants’ offense, and Miles Sanders is poised for a breakout sophomore season in Philadelphia. While both players remain in a class of their own, the 2019 season saw Journey Brown emerge as an enticing prospect for Penn State due to his late-season emergence. Although we won’t be seeing Big Ten football in 2020, Brown will have an opportunity to join Barkley and Sanders in the professional ranks if he continues his ascension when the conference resumes play.
Penn State running back Journey Brown
Meadville Area Senior High School
Prior to becoming the most recent highly-touted Nittany Lions running back prospect, Journey Brown was a record-setting ball-carrier for Meadville Area Senior High School.
As a senior, Brown helped propel his team to the PIAA State Quarterfinals, but the Bulldogs ultimately came up short. Brown rushed for 2,791 yards and 45 touchdowns in his final season, finishing 16th in Pennsylvania in all-purpose yards (2,971). Brown was named first-team all-state by the Pennsylvania Football Writers, and earned Pennsylvania Football News’ 5A all-state first-team honors.
For his career, Brown amassed a whopping 7,027 rushing yards and 106 touchdowns. He also broke a Pennsylvania high school rushing record as a junior, totaling 722 rushing yards and ten touchdowns in a single game.
Penn State Nittany Lions
When he committed to Penn State, Brown likely understood he needed to bide his time before becoming the face of the backfield.
When Brown arrived on campus in 2017, running back Saquon Barkley was set to embark on what turned out to be his final campaign, and the talented Miles Sanders was waiting in the wings. Brown was issued the redshirt designation as a freshman with Barkley expected to occupy 200-plus carries and Sanders to absorb the remaining snaps.
Sanders’ patience was rewarded the following season, as he registered 220 carries for 1,274 and nine touchdowns in his lone season as the primary running back. Playing in eight games, Brown finished his redshirt freshman season with the sixth-most rushing yards on the team, carrying the ball just eight times for 44 yards and a touchdown.
With Barkley and Sanders now in the NFL, the 2019 season presented a long-awaited opportunity for Brown to showcase his ability as a feature runner.
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Though the Penn State backfield essentially functioned as a timeshare between Brown, Noah Cain, Devyn Ford, and Ricky Slade, there was little doubt that Brown led the unit. The 5-foot-11, 216-pound bruiser appeared in 13 games (10 starts), but compiled relatively pedestrian numbers in the early goings, recording 51 carries for 297 yards and three touchdowns over the first eight games. However, Brown would complete his redshirt sophomore season in inspiring fashion.
Over the next five games, Brown accumulated 78 carries for 593 yards and nine touchdowns — including a 16-carry, 202-yard, two-touchdown performance against Memphis in the Cotton Bowl.
Brown ranked third in the Big Ten in rushing touchdowns (13) and fifth in rushing yards (890), while earning All-Big Ten honorable mention recognition and being named to the Associated Press, ESPN, and Sports Illustrated All-Bowl teams.
Journey Brown’s future outlook at Penn State
While the Big Ten Conference has opted out of the 2020 fall college football season due to concerns surrounding the current health situation, Brown proved himself worthy of a long-term feature back role. His punishing running style, acceleration through the hole, and contact balance is ideally suited for the physical brand of football for which the Big Ten is notorious.
When the conference resumes play, look for a revitalized Brown to entrench himself among the premier rushers in college football.