Desmond Brown knows what it is like to be under pressure.
Though the redshirt senior running back has received limited carries in the backfield, he has been a fixture on the Panthers’ special teams units for the past two seasons. In 2011, Brown was the No. 2 back on the depth chart behind then-junior Ray Graham. But at this stage in his college career, Brown is feeling a little less pressure on the gridiron than he is in another competitive field: the business field.
Brown has taken the road less traveled to get to this stage in both his academic and athletic careers, graduating from Miami Norland High School — his fourth area high school — in Miami, Fla., in 2009 with a 2.3 GPA. Brown then enrolled at Miami-Dade College, a school without a football team.
“In high school, I was just playing football,” Brown said. “I didn’t pay much attention to school. When graduation time came, I realized I had to turn it on, so I went to a community college with no football team, all academics, and I graduated.”
The commitment to academics at Miami-Dade College paid off, as a 3.75 GPA and an associate’s degree catapulted him to restart his football-playing career while studying business at a Division I institution.
Brown’s search for a suitor began at an exciting time for his family. Desmond’s brother, Antonio, had just been drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the sixth round after an illustrious three-year career at Central Michigan.
Desmond’s college selection became much easier after the Steelers selected Antonio, making the chance to stay close to his brother — the Panthers and Steelers share a facility on the South Side — one he could not pass up.
A December 2011 article by Dan Gigler of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette explained that the Brown brothers’ upbringing in the northwest section of Miami, a hardscrabble area known for its high levels of poverty and crime, forged a close-knit relationship between the two. The brothers’ bond lended effort to avoid being sucked into the streets of Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood.
“My brother is probably my biggest influence,” Brown said. “He is always telling me to make sure I have good grades. Sometimes he will motivate me with, ‘if you make the honor roll,’ he will reward me with something nice. So that always helped me keep focus.”
Brown could have played on a scholarship elsewhere, the Post-Gazette reported in its 2011 Antonio Brown story — even in his home state of Florida. But the chance to reunite with his brother and play football at Pitt was one he simply could not pass up.
Since getting to Pittsburgh in 2011, Desmond knew to continue pursuing academics with the same passion he demonstrated for his athletic endeavors.
“I still keep my academics as a high priority, just trying to stay true to that,” he said. “In order for me to get the internships I have gotten, I had to have a certain GPA, so that just shows how academics really pays off in the long run.”
Those other opportunities off the field began coming to fruition when Brown received his first internship offer at BNY Mellon in the human resources department during the summer of 2011.
“We linked him up with some alumni through networking events and he was able to network with a gentleman from BNY Mellon, and next thing you know he is going for interviews,” assistant athletic director for student life Penny Semaia said. “We helped highlight his strengths, working on everything from resumé review to how to start conversations and he has been a proactive participant in getting prepared for that next stage of life and has taken well advantage of it in his time here.”
Representatives from BNY Mellon were unavailable for comment.
After completing his summer stint in human resources, Brown returned to BNY Mellon the following summer as a private wealth management intern.
“I have learned a lot and met a lot of great people in a very professional setting [at BNY Mellon],” he said.
Part of the role a student-athlete fulfills is, of course, being a stand-up teammate. And despite Brown’s extracurricular activities, fellow running back Rachid Ibrahim attests to Brown’s amiability in the social world.
“All the running backs, we all hang out together outside of football,” Ibrahim told The Pitt News after training camp in August. “We go out to eat as a group and things like that — just running-back time.”
Brown, who joined the team as a walk-on in 2011, was rewarded by head coach Paul Chryst for his hard work on and off the field with an athletic scholarship this past May.
Semaia said Chryst and his staff have done a great job stressing to every single player the importance of life-skills training, even during the offseason.
Brown is just one shining example of the program’s success.
“I always say hard work pays off,” Brown said. “I believe everything happens for a reason. If you just stay positive and work hard, I believe things will pay off in some kind of way, even if it is not the way you wanted to.”