“Wow, I did it,’ ” Brown-Stephens recalled thinking Tuesday. “It was like, ‘Alright I’m here, let’s do it.’ ”
“… I also told myself there is no turning back. … This is scratching the surface on what I’m able to do in the next coming years.”
This season, Brown-Stephens leads the Gophers in two categories: 295 receiving yards and an average of 24.6 yards per catch. He has played all eight games, while fellow wideouts — Chris Autman-Bell, Dylan Wright and Daniel Jackson — have missed a handful of games.
“He has become a big weapon for us,” head coach P.J. Fleck said after Brown-Stephens had a team-highs of four receptions for 63 yards in last week’s 41-14 victory at Northwestern.
Fleck said Brown-Stephens needed to overcome some setbacks on and off the field and mature along the way. The Gophers often say “the standard is the standard,” but Brown-Stephens started off slipping.
“He kept getting further away from it when he first got here, but then he closed the gap, closed the gap, closed the gap, then he chased it and caught it,” Fleck said on his KFAN show Tuesday. “Now he is the standard. Talk about a young man that has really overcome a lot. He is a fantastic football player.”
After the win over the Wildcats, Fleck mentioned Brown-Stephens’ famous uncle John Legend. Before changing his name, John Stephens grew up in Springfield, Ohio, the same place as Brown-Stephens.
“(Brown-Stephens) has someone very close to him in his life that has the spotlight on him a lot, and I’m sure he’s helped him along the way,” Fleck said. “He is very close to his uncle, and I know he’s helped him a lot. This is why you coach college football, to watch guys like this mature.”
Brown-Stephens said he talks to Legend a few times every week, and he gets congratulations after every game. In 2019, Legend flew to Fresno, Calif., to meet the Gophers for their two-overtime road win over Fresno State. Legend gave a speech to his nephew’s team after the game, a rare road trip Brown-Stephens was a part of during his true freshman season.
“For him to be able to come into the locker room and give us a speech and fill our energy, I thought that was really, really dope,” Brown-Stephens said.
While teammates and coaches were starstruck by the EGOT winner (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony), he’s “Uncle John” to Brown-Stephens. Before Legend and wife Chrissy Teiegen had two children in the past five years, Brown-Stephens staked his spot in that nuclear family.
“I like to argue that I was one of his first kids, before he had his two younger ones,” Brown-Stephens said. “He kind of looked at me the same way. We just build a really good relationship.”
That relationship has included a fair amount of football. Brown-Stephens recalls watching Super Bowls, going to NFL minicamps and playing Madden video games with his uncle.
“He’s always been a fan of the sport. He just didn’t — he wasn’t athletic enough to play, but I guess his voice made up for that,” Brown-Stephens joked.
Legend is an Ohio State fan, so that made it kind of weird for him during the Gophers’ season-opening, 45-31 loss to the Buckeyes.
“He was rooting for me to score as many touchdowns, have as many catches and yards as I possibly could that game, but wanted the Buckeyes to win,” Brown-Stephens said.
Legend’s A-list status is helping Brown-Stephens in another way. “As I’ve gotten older and starting making my own name for myself, I know there is way more than what I’m getting right now because I’ve seen it, I’ve been around him, all the extra stuff,” he said. “It really doesn’t get to me as far as fame or whatever you want to call it.”
Brown-Stephens has been working to pass on mentorship to his younger brother, Anthony Brown, a four-star receiver at Springfield (Ohio), who committed to Minnesota’s 2023 class in September.
Mike said he pushed their mother for him to play football in the third grade, and that paved way for Anthony to play in preschool. “I’m like, ‘seriously?’ ” Mike said.
As they got older, Mike challenged Anthony on who would score more touchdowns each year. Mike, a three-star recruit in the 2019 class, now acknowledges his little bro has been scoring more often. He calls Anthony an ‘explosive player” who has “a dog mentality, always hungry.”
They each possess some top-end speed. “Honestly, I think he will be better than me,” Mike said. “As a bigger brother, you are supposed to want that for your little brother, otherwise you aren’t doing your job.”
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