- Steve Hummer The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
OK, Josh Brown warns, this is really silly.
Not exactly the prelude one expects when someone starts to explain the source of a huge ambition that has guided him here, to the U.S. Naval Academy.
From boyhood, while growing up in Gwinnett County, Brown wanted to be an astronaut. What kid hasn’t? In his case, he said, it was an episode of SpongeBob SquarePants that sparked the dream. As promised, it was beginning to sound silly.
More specifically it was an exchange between SpongeBob and one Squidward. It went something like this, if the internet is to be believed:
Squidward — “I can be anything I set my mind to. I can be a football player, or a king, or a spaceman.
SpongeBob SquarePants — “Or a football-playing king in space ... with a moustache.”
A great influence can ambush a child from anywhere, it seems. But these years later, as Brown is finishing his final year at Navy, the stirring words of Mr. Squidward continue to be his North Star.
“I could do all those,” Brown said Thursday. “I got the football down.”
One of a corps of running backs in Navy’s triple-option offense, Brown has gained a modest 91 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns — both vs. Cincinnati — this season. His last meeting with bitter rival Army looms Saturday afternoon.
“I won homecoming king in high school,” he said. That school being Brookwood.
“The moustache, I’m still working on that one.” Facial hair is unwelcome at the Naval Academy. He plans to find a window after graduation in which to explore his inner Tom Selleck.
Astronaut-wise, there remains work to be done. That is not a job to be typically posted on ZipRecruiter.com. But Brown had this all scoped out when he was a senior at Brookwood, recovering from knee surgery and sifting through a shrinking list of college scholarship offers. Navy stayed with him, and he, in turn, embraced the place that has produced more astronauts — 54 by the academy’s count — than any other institution.
The son of immigrants – his father is from Jamaica, his mother from Guyana — Brown figured he could handle the demands of a service academy. His folks had laid the groundwork for all his future commanding officers.
“Their whole goal of moving to the country was for their kids to be successful, to set us up for something,” he said. “When I was younger I used to get in trouble a lot — just messing around in school. And they set the precedent early on that wasn’t going to fly. I had to have some self-control.
“It really didn’t faze me much coming up here because that is how I had been living my life.”
Soon to graduate as an operations-research major — a lot of logistics and numbers and whatnot — Brown is scheduled to report to a Marine basic-training program afterward. Then, if all goes well with his testing, to Marine flight school.
One of his predecessors from metro Atlanta, Zerbin Singleton, also an A-back in his football days, graduated a decade ago with similar designs of space exploration. Currently a Marine pilot, still looking for a seat at the astronauts’ table, Singleton regularly confers with Brown. An aspiring astronaut can never get too much advice.
So, does Brown have the right stuff for that job?
“No doubt,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said.
Should the graduate need a recommendation, Niumatalolo has one all prepared.
“He’s as good a kid as there is,” said the coach accustomed to dealing with quality. “Super smart. He’s a good person. Very analytical. Comes from a great family.
“He has been a role model in the hall, academically, in the military, and for us. Never questions his role. Whether on special teams or as a blocker or when he has gotten the ball. He has run hard with the football. I’m really grateful he came.”
In the short term, Brown is bracing himself for the emotions of his final game against Army. Opposed to last year, when Navy was operating without a handful of injured offensive players (including himself, who was out with ankle surgery), the Midshipmen feel full of vinegar now despite their 6-5 record. Losing to the Black Knights last year broke a 14-game winning streak in the series.
“More fiery, chippy practices this week,” Brown reported.
“Some people might think we weren’t able to give it our best shot (in 2016). I just want the best shot out of us and the best shot out of them and see who comes out on top.”
Much, much longer term, Brown figures the rigors and the lessons of the Naval Academy — not all of them written in a book — are going to serve him well when he takes to the sky.
He might want to include this quote he spoke Thursday on any application for any assignment that may come:
“At Navy, I learned that I can always do more than what is expected of me. If someone expects me to get something done by a certain date, I feel now I can do it before they expect it. I learn that expectations are not necessarily something you should strive to meet. They’re something you should strive to exceed.”
The thing about a service-academy education is that it does not funnel directly into the international space station. The immediate goal is to produce leaders for potentially quite difficult and quite dangerous duty.
Piloting a military aircraft certainly would come wrapped in that potential.
Brown offered a useful quote about that, too. And it’s not silly at all:
“It’s a harrowing business that I’m getting into. But lots of people do it.
“One of the things that keep me going is to see how proud I can make my parents despite how worried or scared they might be about the uncertainty in my future.”