Arizona receiver Shun Brown breaks away for a long scoring run during the team’s March 4 open practice at Arizona Stadium. Brown said he recognized the defense at the line of scrimmage, ran a slant route and let his instincts take over.

Shun Brown had four receptions as an Arizona Wildcats freshman – none remotely as remarkable as his recent catch-and-run.

The play took place during Arizona’s open spring scrimmage, and it illustrated how far Brown had come since a freshman year marked by uncertainty and minimal playing time at wide receiver.

Brown snared a slant pass near the midfield logo at Arizona Stadium. Safety Jarvis McCall Jr. had the first crack at him, but the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Brown shed him. Safety Anthony Mariscal went for a leg tackle, but Brown broke it. Cornerback DaVonte’ Neal came next, but Brown spun away from him.

Brown displayed power, instincts, agility … and then speed. He ran away from pursuing defenders Jamardre Cobb and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles en route to the end zone.

One play in a scrimmage setting doesn’t guarantee future success. The competition at slot receiver is considerable with seniors Samajie Grant and Nate Phillips returning, and redshirt sophomore Tony Ellison also on an ascending path. Brown might not become a major weapon in the offense until 2017, when Grant and Phillips are gone.

But that one play provided a glimpse of what Brown is capable of if he knows what he’s doing. And that’s the key takeaway here.

“The older guys tell the freshmen your second year is better because you see everything faster,” Brown said. “This year, coming into the spring, that is really true. I’m seeing everything. I’m seeing things before they happen. I’m in sync with the offense.”

It’s a familiar refrain among developing football players – what they all experience with more experience: The more they know, the sooner they can recognize what’s happening – or about to happen – and the faster they can play.

On the play in question, Brown said he knew he was going to get the ball before it was thrown based on the alignment of the defensive back across from him. Once he secured it, he could let his instincts take over.

“When you first start playing, everything’s moving so fast,” UA receivers coach Tony Dews said. “The more you play, the more you do it, the more you get used to it. It’s like anything else – it starts to slow down.

“It’s almost like being in high school. Remember what it felt like when you were a freshman walking into high school and you didn’t know which way was up?”

Being a freshman in college isn’t quite as scary, but it’s a learning process. Everyone goes through it – even the son of a coach.

Shun’s father, Vyron Brown, is a longtime high school and college coach. His résumé includes stops at Grambling State (where he played running back), Alabama State and, most recently, Texas Southern.

The influence of Shun’s lifelong coach is evident to his current coaches.

“He’s a very coachable guy,” UA coach Rich Rodriguez said. “He loves football. It’s in his family. He understands the game.”

Said Dews: “I like to coach guys that love football. That doesn’t mean he’s going to love football because his dad coaches it. But chances are, from a mental standpoint, he’s going to be a little bit more aware of things going on because he’s been around it. He’s going to understand a work ethic, because he’s been around it his whole life and listened to his dad coach.”

Brown confirms the part about loving football. He says even dreams about the game.

The Shreveport, Louisiana, product is a huge New Orleans Saints fan. Brown’s fandom dates to the early 2000s, when the Saints’ stars included quarterback Aaron Brooks, running back Deuce McAllister and receiver Joe Horn.

Horn scored 58 touchdowns during his 12-year NFL career.

After scoring a touchdown against the New York Giants during a 2003 Monday-night game, Horn and a teammate pulled out a flip phone hidden in the goalpost padding. Horn then proceeded to make a mock call. (He was penalized and later fined.)

A young Saints fan was watching.

“I went crazy when he did that,” Brown said.

Don’t expect anything like that from Brown; he knows such stunts aren’t allowed in college football.

But don’t be surprised if he has many opportunities to celebrate.


Michael is an award-winning journalist who has been covering sports professionally since the early '90s. He started at the Star in 2015 after spending 15 years at The Orange County Register. Michael is a graduate of Northwestern University.