Packers rookie Brown, mom overcome loss
GREEN BAY - Of all the goals Beniquez Brown has for his fledgling NFL career, making sure his mother is taken care of is the biggest.
April Brown always has been a motivating factor for the 6-foot-1, 229-pound linebacker, who signed with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent last month after a standout career at Mississippi State.
She is the only parent Brown ever really has had after his father, Rod Jones, was murdered when he was three months old. Brown, who is soft-spoken and polite, will tell you that his mother is what makes him go and the reason he does everything.
“I talk to her every day,” Brown said. “She calls and checks in on me and sees how everything is going. Even when I was at school, we talked every night just to see how everything is going and make sure I’m on the right path.”
Jones was just 18 when he was shot and killed during what was reported to be a confrontation between several people on July 24, 1993 at a motorcycle racetrack in Tuscumbia, Ala. His killer never has been identified.
“We have no idea who did it or even why they did it,” said Brown's mother, who was dating Jones at the time. “It was just one of those things.”
Brown didn’t ask his mother many questions about his father growing up, but he didn’t have to. People would come up to him all the time and tell him he must be Rod Jones’ son. He looked just like him. They’d tell him he played football like him, too.
Jones broke records and was an all-state running back at Coffee High School in Florence, Ala., in the early 1990s. He set the school mark with 33 career touchdowns after scoring four in a loss to Pell City during his senior season in October 1992, a little more than six months before Brown was born.
Brown also was a star running back during his prep days, rushing for a combined 2,276 yards and 33 touchdowns his final two years at Florence High School. He was even more dominant as a defender and was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and the 20th-best outside linebacker in the nation by 247Sports.
April Brown’s father and uncle served as father figures for her son, but she was responsible for raising him. She could be strict at times – he had a curfew until he went off to college – but Brown never caused any problems. He always told her he’d never do anything to disappoint her, and he never has.
“I had to be that tough mama, so he could learn that respect,” Brown's mother said. “Not only for me, but for everybody. I think he learned that very well.”
April was 19 when she had Brown. She knew she had to do everything in her power to make sure her son had a good and healthy life. It was easy to keep track of him most of the time, because all his friends liked to come over to his house. To them, Brown had the cool home with the cool mom.
“April was the epitome of a great mom,” said Byron Graham, who was Brown’s basketball coach at Florence. “Loving, supportive, structured and disciplined. She always supported my coaching of her son.”
Brown started playing sports when he was 5, and he was good at everything. Football. Baseball. Basketball. It didn’t matter.
It was April Brown who played defense when he was shooting hoops or going outside for a game of catch. She made sure to attend as many practices and games as possible.
She did what his father never had the chance to do.
“I used to always feel like he’d be missing something or he would have a hole in different aspects, but he never really said, ‘Mama, I’m missing this part of me,’” April Brown said. “I guess because I was such an involved parent, he really didn’t feel like something was missing. Of course he would have loved to have had his father. But I don’t think him not being here made him. … he turned out great.”
As much as Brown’s mother means to him, he means just as much to her. She plans to travel to Wisconsin to watch him play and support him if he makes the team, even if it takes a little longer to get to games.
“Everything I have done, I have completely done for him,” Brown's mother said of her only child. “I tell people all the time that I don’t even think people know my name. It’s like Beniquez’s mom.
“My life has completely been centered around him and the things that he’s doing. It’s just me and him.”
Brown still has some work to do after being one of 96 underclassmen who declared for the NFL draft.
He was Mississippi State’s second-leading tackler for a second straight season as a junior in 2015, starting all 13 games and serving as a leader on defense.
His draft projections were all over the place, some as high as the third round. But of those 96 underclassmen, Brown was one of 30 who didn’t get selected.
He knew the risks going in and mostly was fine with how it played out. He signed with the Packers soon after the draft.
“Never got too worried because I have a great support system, my mom and all the rest of my family,” Brown said. “Actually, we had already talked about it before the draft. You never know what is going to happen with the draft. If it happens for you, it happens for you. If it don’t, wherever you go to, make sure you are ready to work.
“That was the plan all along, so never really got upset. It was disappointing, but at the end of the day I knew that whatever team I went to I was going to work to get some playing time.”
Brown and the Packers appear to be a good match.
He played outside linebacker as part of Mississippi State’s 4-3 defense during his three-year career, but Green Bay has a need for inside linebackers in its 3-4.
It was something Brown saw before signing, and it gives him a chance to make the roster if he plays well. He only needs to look at how Joe Thomas, another former undrafted free agent linebacker, carved out a role with the team last season.
The Packers’ inside linebacker situation is largely unproven, with 2015 fourth-round pick Jake Ryan and Sam Barrington atop the depth chart.
Along with signing Brown, the team also drafted Stanford inside linebacker Blake Martinez in the fourth round last month.
Brown had a combined 161 tackles the past two seasons while playing in a talent-laden Southeastern Conference.
Not being selected during the three-day draft was something he accepted, but not something he will forget.
“That really puts a chip on my shoulder,” Brown said. “But coming from Mississippi State, we always had that chip on our shoulder. Everybody has always counted us out. Just going undrafted, that adds more fuel to the fire and getting ready to prove everybody wrong.”