Cornell Brown goes from Baldwin High to Baker U


Story by Jim Joyner, Sports Editor

When the Baker football team plays at Liston Stadium, a familiar name echoes through the speakers and into the residential areas of Baldwin City. Whether it’s a handoff, a reception or a kick return, Baldwin residents have often heard the name “Cornell Brown.”

Brown has been one of the breakout stars for the No. 3 Baker Wildcats in 2015. The sophomore has served the team mainly as a wide receiver but also dabbles in returning kickoffs and playing running back. He is also the youngest member of the team’s players council.

“My senior year of high school Baker won the conference championship and I knew they were going to be a winning team when I came here,” Brown said. “I brought my same mentality and just mixed it in with a group of winners.”

Brown played his best game at the collegiate level against the Central Methodist Eagles on Saturday. The sophomore caught nine passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns. Brown’s first touchdown was also the first touchdown of the game, a 22-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Logan Brettell. Brown then showed off his speed with a 52-yard touchdown reception, burning the Central Methodist secondary.

Against MidAmerica Nazarene Brown caught seven passes for 52 yards and rushed the ball six times for 37 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown run. On the season he’s caught 32 passes for more than 300 yards and rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns.

Brown was a standout football and basketball player for the Baldwin High Bulldogs before making the move across Ames Street to attend Baker and play football.

He often returns to Liston Stadium on Friday nights to watch his former team play. He has a hard time just sitting and watching the game. Before he can reach a seat he’s either greeted by a former teammate, a former coach, a parent or fan of his who just wants to see how he’s doing.

For Brown, playing in his high school stadium is a joy every game. He wants to score the most touchdowns in the history of Liston Stadium, which is made possible because of his incredible high school numbers. In Brown’s senior year, he scored more than 30 touchdowns.

“I love it here. I love the atmosphere here and I want to score the most touchdowns here on this field,” Brown said.

But 2014 was one of the first years when you didn’t hear Brown’s name mentioned on the Liston Stadium PA system. As a freshman Brown saw minimal playing time, mainly on special teams or in games that were already out of reach. His only reception came on the road at Central Methodist in the team’s 10th game.

But now Brown, wearing his high school No. 2, lines up in nearly every offensive snap that Baker runs. In the team’s second game at Culver-Stockton, Brown touched the ball twice. One was a 34-yard touchdown, the other a 25-yard touchdown.

The biggest turnaround in Brown’s playing time and production offensively was sparked with his work ethic, especially this summer with some of the older players on the team.

“He started hanging around good kids and started hanging around with leaders on the team, some of the older guys, and I think that’s helped him a lot,” junior quarterback Nick Marra said. “Work ethic has rubbed off on him, and he’s done a great job being that person off the field and it comes back onto the field.”

Brown’s ability to adapt and his willingness to try new positions has made his sophomore season much better than his freshman campaign.

“He’s a versatile kid, in terms of, we can put him in the backfield and run stuff and we can put him out at receiver and get him going in different ways,” Marra said. “He gives our five-wides package a lot of flexibility.”

Head football coach Mike Grossner, whose son now plays for the Baldwin High Bulldogs, recruited the BHS product with the hopes of him giving Baker this type of flexibility. After a year in the system, Brown seems to have found his roles on the team.

“His leadership abilities are coming out and he worked hard all summer and he’s reaping the benefits of it,” Grossner said. “He’s a running back learning how to play receiver, and there’s been times you see that where he doesn’t completely catch the ball clean.”

Grossner believes that once he figures out that part of his game, everything will be straightened out.

“After the catch, he’s really good, plus he gives the ability where we can line up five wides and motion him in and he’s one of our best tailbacks,” Grossner said. “He does a lot of things for us and it’s because he worked his tail off to get in this position.”

Brown was the feature back for the Baldwin High Bulldogs in the 2013 season. As a senior he was selected as a first team all-state all-purpose player. Brown served as a running back, wide receiver, punt returner and defensive back and led the Bulldogs to the Kansas 4A quarterfinals before they lost to Coffeyville-Field Kindley High School.

“My senior year (2012) he came in and was very versatile and explosive,” Baldwin Bulldog teammate and current Baker baseball player Tyler Cawley said. “When Chad (Berg) and I got hurt he would get 40 carries a game as well as being responsible for the passing.”

Brown filled in as a quarterback in that quarterfinal game after the Bulldogs’ first team all-state quarterback and now Morningside College Mustang defensive back, Chad Berg, was injured in the previous game. Brown threw Baldwin back into the game, after the Bulldogs trailed by 21 points in the second half, and nearly engineered a historic game-tying drive that fell short in the 35-27 loss. Brown’s athleticism at Baldwin High made him shine as one of the best players in the state of Kansas.

“Every time he got the ball in his hands he had the chance to break one,” Baldwin head football coach Mike Berg said. “He’s just a phenomenal player because he’s got quickness and speed.”

But there’s a huge difference between playing for the Baldwin High Bulldogs on Friday nights against Eudora and playing at the college level. It seems to have helped Brown out to have one season to dip his foot into the water before diving in and making a splash at the collegiate level.

“I think he kind of got the freshman look out of his eyes. He was like ‘oh my goodness,’” sophomore Clarence Clark said. “The speed of the game is kind of faster, and the people are a little bit bigger.”

Brown has probably never been the biggest person on any team he’s ever played on. But for what the 5-foot-9, 180-pound receiver lacks in size, he makes up for in speed and quickness.

“Cornell’s not the biggest guy, but he knows how to use his body. He knows how to juke people,” Clark said.

The speed of the game compared to high school football was one of the biggest adjustments that Brown had to make.

“It’s hard to get used to the speed of the game,” Brown said. “Then after a spring and summer of hard work I felt like I was more adjusted to the speed and I’m playing with more confidence this year than I was last year.”

Brown may be the third, fourth or even fifth best receiver on this Baker team, but what makes him special and what makes him so valuable is his ability to do everything.

Residents who live within walking distance of Liston Stadium get to relive the sounds of Friday nights, but now on Saturday afternoons or evenings. And they are starting to hear “Touchdown, Cornell Brown” again for the first time since the fall of 2013.