Whatever happens during this training camp, the most significant of Max Browne’s college career, his legacy at USC will be defined by patience. The prized recruit from Skyline High has sat for three seasons while cohorts have decamped for the NFL.
LOS ANGELES – Max Browne was sitting outside USC’s campus center one day this summer, red Razor scooter folded near his feet, talking about the concept of transferring.
“You kind of get in that mindset that, shoot, I’ve gotta play now,” said Browne, a graduate of Skyline High School in Sammamish. “We’re in the world of: If you’re not playing now, you’re transferring.”
This, to be clear, is Browne explaining why he has not transferred. USC teammates closest to Browne, the redshirt-junior quarterback, say he is analytical and clear-eyed, not given to the pressures of convention. Browne calls it being calculated. And his calculations have never spit out a school other than USC.
Those calculations have led him to patience.
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Whatever happens during this training camp, the most significant of Browne’s college career, his legacy at USC will be defined by that patience. The prized recruit has sat for three seasons while cohorts have decamped for the NFL.
Browne, meanwhile, is battling a challenge from redshirt freshman Sam Darnold for the Trojans’ starting job. Trojans coach Clay Helton said Browne had a slight edge after spring practice, but the competition remains tight.
Helton plans to name a starter Aug. 20, two weeks before the season opener against defending national champion Alabama in Arlington, Texas. So Browne will perform a familiar task. He will wait.
Sitting outside, Browne gestured to a nearby table. It was the spot where he’d retreated more than four years ago, when his future was clearer. USC quarterback Matt Barkley and Browne ate lunch there just after Browne had received a scholarship offer as a high-school junior. Barkley pitched him on the school, and they discussed Browne’s potential.
The recruiting services at the time gushed. Browne figured he would arrive at USC with, in his words, “a high-school state championship, all the awards,” and play so well that then-coach Lane Kiffin would have to grant him the starting job.
At USC, Browne has kept a low profile.
Expectations for Browne had congealed at around the time he met with Barkley, when a recruiting analyst for Scout.com gathered five men in his parents’ living room in Georgia to settle on the year’s recruiting rankings. They watched hours of film until they felt comfortable enough to bestow on Browne a title: best high-school quarterback in the nation.
Some other recruiting services agreed. Browne was now the best big thing.
The tag followed him to USC from Skyline. Years later, his recruiting ranking still appears in many news stories about him. It became like an extra appendage, often getting in the way.
“You expect yourself to win, and in some regard I felt like people expected me to win some of those jobs, with all the rankings and whatever I came with,” Browne said. “I mean, in hindsight, that doesn’t really mean anything.”
Browne played fine upon arriving on campus, just not well enough to win the job. He redshirted. Then Kiffin was fired, and Steve Sarkisian took over. Browne thought he would have another chance to earn the job from Cody Kessler. Kessler won it again, cementing Browne as a backup for two more seasons.
Whenever he returned home, people bombarded him with questions. When are you going to play? What’s the deal? Trying to find answers grew tiresome.
“I always thought I was a mentally tough guy, like that I could roll with the punches,” Browne said. “But you lose those battles, and I think I didn’t anticipate how much that would wear on me.”
Teammates respect Browne’s quiet toil. When Kessler graduated, despite the open question at quarterback, Browne became the team’s unquestioned leader.