HUNTINGTON - Many times, hearing of a football player making his first start early in the season comes as a passing note, but for Marshall University linebacker Tyler Brown, the appearance was certainly an eye-opener.
Brown wasn't just making his first defensive start for the Thundering Herd.
"That was my first defensive start ever in my entire life," Brown said. "Even in high school, I never made a defensive start, so that was a pretty big deal for me."
So why did he never start on the defensive side of the football? Simple. Brown was a valuable asset for Spring Valley as a quarterback, and the Timberwolves had the depth so that he didn't have to play both ways. As a senior, Brown was a finalist for the Kennedy Award, which is given annually to the state's top high school player. The dual-threat quarterback combined for nearly 3,000 yards and amassed 41 touchdowns before going to Robert Morris University to play quarterback. Brown transferred to Marshall and excelled in the special teams aspect, which lent the Herd coaching staff to try him at linebacker. Making such a transition is almost unheard of, especially at the FBS level. Brown's love for the weight room, natural athletic ability and football IQ, however, have played a big role in his newly-expanded role as a starting linebacker.
"No. 1, he's tough," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. "He's a tough kid that's pretty athletic and he understands the game. He was a good player for us a year ago on special teams, so that transitioned a little bit."
In terms of strength and toughness, Brown isn't your average quarterback-turned-linebacker.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior squats 500 pounds, dead lifts more than 400 pounds and can put up 325 on a close-grip bench, according to Marshall's training staff.
Brown's love for physicality is one that will be tested this week as he helps the Herd defense against a tough-nosed Ohio offense.
"It's going to be a physical game, just like Boise was," Brown said. "They're another big, physical team so we have to bring it to them."
Brown's first two games as a linebacker for the Herd have gone well. He had four tackles, including a sack for a 12-yard loss, against VMI before making his first start against Boise State and registering three tackles last week.
The former Spring Valley product said that his defensive game is still a work-in-progress, though. He even joked that the sack against VMI was the first time in his life he'd tackled a quarterback, instead of being the quarterback tackled.
"I'm learning on the fly," Brown said. "You can't really imitate the live game speed in practice, even scrimmages. It's not as fast as a game, so I'm definitely having to learn on the fly."
As he gets ready to take on the Bobcats, Brown remembered the last time that Ohio was at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. It was in 2014 when the Herd ripped off a 44-14 win.
"Last time, Ohio played here, I was still in high school and I was in the stands as a fan," Brown said. "That's pretty cool. Then, I was playing quarterback. I never thought I'd be playing linebacker, playing Ohio five years later down the road. It's crazy how stuff happens."