ATLANTA -- Georgia Tech's collapse tested Chris Brown's loyalty in a big way.
In 1990, the 12-year-old Augustan savored every moment of the Yellow Jackets' march to the national championship. Less than six years later, Brown faced the greatest decision of his young life.
In the end, the offensive lineman could not betray his beloved Yellow Jackets. As memories of quarterback Shawn Jones dissecting defenses spun in his mind, Brown signed with the only program his conscious would allow.
Tech had plunged into obscurity prior to the left tackle's arrival in Atlanta in 1996. Brown's devotion compelled him to join a program which had averaged just five wins since that run to the national championship.
"I wanted to be a part of the rebuilding process," said Brown, a Butler High School product. "Georgia Tech was always my favorite school. I wanted to bring this program back to where it was in the early 1990s.
"We have a lot of fans in hiding. People acted shocked to see us do what we did last year."
Georgia Tech led the nation with an average of 502 yards of total offense in 1999. The Yellow Jackets blistered the opposition with 38.4 points per game during their 8-4 season, earning a second-consecutive Gator Bowl invitation.
Brown's 6-foot-6, 315-pound frame swells with pride when reflecting on Tech's return to prominence. Still, his mission remains unfulfilled.
Despite the Jackets' ascent into the national spotlight, skeptics undermine Georgia Tech's two-year residence in the Top 25.
Cynics remember the Yellow Jackets' plummet to 1-10 four years after claiming a share of the 1990 national championship.
"They think of us as the brain school," said Brown, a management major. "We play sports here, too. I take that personally. Every time I go home, that's all I hear. If we keep winning, we'll get respect. We have to get to where people get accustomed to seeing us do good things. I want to go undefeated, beat Florida State and go to a (Bowl Championship Series) game."
The George O'Leary era began with the final three games of the disastrous 1994 campaign. Brown redshirted his freshman season (1996), but since has been an integral component of O'Leary's resurrection effort.
A starter in 31-of-36 career games, Brown has missed just one start in the past 24 contests. He was responsible for protecting Joe Hamilton's blind-side the past two seasons.
O'Leary was critical of Brown's lackadaisical approach to practice last year, but raves about his durability.
"(Brown)'s a strong guy that has enough mobility to do a great job," O'Leary said. "He's a tough-natured kid."
By maintaining a rigorous weight training regimen during the season, Brown has avoided serious injury during his time at Tech, although the 22-year-old did have surgery on his wrist and shoulder last spring.
Brown attributes his relative clean bill of health to pickup basketball games and dedication in the weight room. O'Leary offered a different explanation.
"He eats a lot," O'Leary said tongue-in-cheek. "He's a great athlete and has good foot movement.
Reach Jimmy DeButts at (706) 823-3221.
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