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THE HEART OF TEXAS: How Ann Arbor became home for Chris Brown

BY EVERETT COOK
Daily Sports Editor
Published March 15, 2012

***
Rob Krohl, one of the best prep coaches in the country, approached Chris’s dad after Chris’ freshman year of high school in Flower Mound to have him come play for his Honey Baked club team in Detroit with some of the best amateur players around.

If Chris wanted to play for Michigan, this was the golden opportunity. He could turn a spot with Honey Baked into a spot on the United States National Developmental Team, which send a few players to Michigan every year.

The USNDT is based in Ann Arbor and consistently feeds players to top college programs. If he was going to play on a team in high school, this was the one to play on. But first, he had to get on the junior team.

Krohl had Chris travel to Toronto with his Honey Baked team to play in a top-prospect camp, which was essentially a tryout for the team.

Chris scored seven goals in that tournament, and his spot was cemented.

But for all this to unfold, Chris had to leave Texas. At age 15, he had to leave everything he had ever known and move to a city where he knew no one and to a culture he knew nothing about, living with a family he had never met. Chris would have to learn things by himself that ordinary teenagers do with their parents, such as how to manage money or how to drive a car.

The decision was made for itself.

“I put it in my head that if this is something you want to do, you have to make a commitment now and decide this is what you want to do for the rest of your life,” Chris said.

Facing the prospect of having her eldest child leave the house at 15, Candice said no. He was too young to be living on his own.

But after Chris told her she was the only one against him leaving, Candice relented, saying she wouldn’t be the one to hold him back from his dreams.

“It was terrible,” Candice said. “Besides the death of my mother, putting him on that plane was the hardest thing I have ever done.”

Chris still claims that regardless of whether it is sunny or cloudy, Candice wears sunglasses when she is driving him to the airport. It could be the darkest day of winter, but if she is driving Chris to the airport, those sunglasses are going down.

To this day, more than six years later, dropping Chris off at the airport makes Candice cry.

So Chris started over in Michigan, living in Saline with a host family that Krohl had set him up with. Soon after, the USNDT team came calling, where he would be playing with future Wolverines A.J. Treais and Lynch.

There was still an adjustment period.

On his first day of class at Pioneer High School, the Texan answered a question the same way he had his entire life: with a “yes, ma’am.” His teacher stared Chris down, telling him not to call her ma’am.

Chris answered with another “yes, ma’am.”

She sent him out to the hallway, where the confused newcomer got a lecture on why using “sir” and “ma’am” was disrespectful to a young teacher.

***
Click. Click. Click.

Chris stopped at the second level of Yost Ice Arena during his sophomore year of high school, pausing to admire the arena of the team he had wanted to play for as long as he could remember. Then-Michigan assistant coach Mel Pearson continued, venturing to the club level seats that sit directly above the Michigan bench.

Click. Click. Click.

The cowboy boots slowly clicked as Brown maneuvered up the stairs of Yost, lifting his eye line up to the endless rows of banners that adorn the rafters of the historic building.

He sat down next to Pearson, who talked up the tradition and success of the Michigan hockey program, even though he didn’t have to sell anything to the kid that watched that 1996 National Championship game.

This meeting with Pearson was the first visit Brown had made to a university and the first time he had been in Yost. He also hadn’t met head coach Red Berenson yet.

So when Pearson offered a scholarship, Brown had to excuse himself to call his parents back in Texas.

Click. Click. Click.

“Chris told us, ‘Dad, I have had no interest in going anywhere else, my whole life, but here,’ ” his father, Chris, remembers.

The phone call lasted less than a minute.

***
The flag unfurls, covering the heads of at least 40 students in the student section, called “The Children of Yost.” Chris has just scored a goal, and the students are going crazy, the lone-star flag shaking like it’s on a pole during a windy day.


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