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Playing for picks

Some dodgeball and extra drills aid Brown in making his first interceptions

By Stephen Tsai

LAST UPDATED: 1:50 a.m. HST, Nov 23, 2010

A quest of three months was finally answered, thanks, in part, to child's play.

In Hawaii's 41-7 victory over San Jose State, linebacker Aaron Brown made the first two interceptions of his 11-game NCAA career, returning the first 22 yards for a touchdown.

"I probably could have had, like, five (interceptions)," Brown said, "but I dropped a few. You have to forget about them and wait for the next one to come your way."

Before each game, Brown works on interception drills with associate head coach Rich Miano.

"He's always throwing the ball around," Brown said. "His passes come in fast. I have to be ready. I have to keep my eye on it, stay focused."

Brown received an extra tutorial session during the past Friday's walk-through, when several defensive players decided to play a childhood game.

"We were throwing the ball around, and then all of a sudden, we were playing dodgeball," linebacker Corey Paredes said. "We were slinging the ball at each other, working the hands. It just happened."

Brown said: "Dodgeball with footballs. They were being thrown pretty fast. A lot of the time I was trying to get out of the way. But when I had a chance to catch it, it really helped my hands."

The victors?

"Nobody really won," Brown said. "We were trying to hit each other as hard as we could with the ball."

To be sure, Brown does not try to avoid contact during football games.

"He's physical," Miano said. "He plays fast. He plays hard. He's tough. Look at his stitches."

During a game against Fresno State, he was inadvertently kicked in the face. He suffered a deep cut under his right eye that required several stitches and left him with a scar.

In January, Brown will undergo a procedure in which scar tissue will be removed and the area re-stitched.

"They want to make it cleaner," Brown said.

As a sophomore at Saddleback Community College in Mission Viejo, Calif., Brown was being recruited as a safety. But he lasted at that position for less than a month in Manoa.

"He grew into it," defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. "When he was a safety, he basically played the linebacker spot he's playing now. He feels at home."

Brown redshirted in 2009 after suffering a severe hamstring injury. This year, he worked his way into what is essentially a rover position. In UH's base defense, outside linebackers are assigned sides. Brown plays on the left.

Aranda said the plan is to place Brown on the running back or pass-catching tight end. "We like those matchups," Aranda said.

Brown appears to be at ease in that role, which allows him to use his strength, quickness and vision.

On his first interception, the Warriors were in a "flow" coverage. Brown's job was to defend the first receiver to run a crossing pattern. "He read it perfectly," Miano said.

On the second pick, the Spartans ran a two-man route, sending one receiver into the flat and the other on a looping pattern. Brown motioned as if to defend the flat, then released the receiver to the cornerback's coverage. Brown dropped back to track the second receiver.

"The quarterback threw it right to him," Miano said.

That left Brown to do one thing.

"Catch the ball," Brown said. "I concentrated on that."

Brown said he had received encouragement from Paredes, who had dropped several passes earlier in the season before making three picks in two games.

"A.B. has been saving it up," Paredes said. "He dropped some balls before. Now he's taking them to the house."

Those two interceptions, one for a score, landed Brown his Western Athletic Conference defensive player of the week award. Teammate Bryant Moniz won the offensive award after setting a school record with 560 yards passing, with two TDs.

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