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August 14, 2011

Big numbers and offers not enough for Browne

MORE GORNEY: West region recruiting mailbag

Playing quarterback at powerhouse Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline is always a high-profile position and Max Browne said he feels the pressure heading into his junior season.

Browne is not all that worried about recruiting - he already has a handful of outstanding offers - or being considered one of the top 2013 quarterbacks in the country.

All the 6-foot-5 standout said he cares about is winning another state championship after being upset by Spokane Ferris last season. Even though Browne had an astonishing 4,182 passing yards with 50 touchdowns and 13 interceptions as a sophomore, he didn't lead Skyline to the title.

Statistics don't mean much to Browne without the trophy.

"I'd be lying if I said there wasn't any pressure," Browne said. "I'd say the pressure is from my high school standards of getting the state title back, getting back to the Tacoma Dome where we play the state championship game and getting that trophy back this year."

With a new quarterback in Browne, who took over the quarterback duties from four-star prospect and one of the state's best ever in Jake Heaps, last season was an unknown for Skyline coach Mat Taylor.

He knew Browne, who already has offers from Cal, Clemson, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, had an immense amount of talent but losing so much from the previous year - especially Heaps - Taylor said just getting back to the state title game was an accomplishment.

"As a coach you don't want to say this, I wasn't surprised, but I thought the odds were against us to get back," Taylor said. "That was a true testament to Max and all the kids because we lost so much from the year before.

"Skyline has been blessed with not many injuries. We had a bunch last year. To make it back to the state championship, you never want to say it's good to lose it, but there was a sense of accomplishment for getting there. Even though the bar is raised so high, it was devastating to lose it, but at the end of the day it felt good to get there."

For Browne, who learned so much from Heaps, playing for the state championship was not enough. At Skyline, winning it is the goal.

Learning from a star

Skyline was so dominant in Heaps' senior year that Browne would often play after halftime, gaining valuable game experience when the outcome didn't necessarily hang in the balance.

Browne followed Heaps around, learning from the veteran, closely watching during the first half when Heaps picked apart defenses. When the score got too inflated, Browne was inserted and the freshman got his chances.

Early experience like that was invaluable.

"The intention was we put him up on varsity so he could shadow Jake," Taylor said. "That was the greatest advantage we had because Jake Heaps' senior year I don't think he played in the second half in 10 of 14 games. Max got that time and the encouragement from Jake and the coaching staff.

"He's started for a year, he played 14 games and in the state championship as a sophomore, but it's almost like he had an extra third of a year as a freshman and to be mentored by one of the best Washington state has ever seen.

"That really helped his maturity. That was a really pivotal thing in his development and Max has continued with that. He saw how Jake prepared himself and he wants to model himself the same way."

Getting early playing time was crucial to Browne's on-field development. It was a jumpstart for his outstanding sophomore season. Learning the intricacies, those subtle points from the veteran Heaps while he was on the field early in games, was also important to Browne as a freshman.

"(Heaps) really taught me so much about reads and defenses," Browne said. "Just watching him, how he was basically a surgeon on the football field, a very good QB, I learned a lot on and off the field with what he did.

"It was definitely helpful basically because going into my first varsity start I knew what to expect and I knew what the whole varsity atmosphere was going to be like and everything that comes along with it. That mop-up time, I was able to throw with a lot of the receivers and play on a big stage which helped me a bunch going into last year."

Knowing he's special

Browne, the fourth brother in his family to play at Skyline, had been identified in youth football by coaches as a special prospect but no one could conceive just how special he would become early in his prep career.

He had always been around the program, his brother, Mitch, leading Skyline to a state championship when Taylor guesses Browne was six or eight years old.

Nobody knew Max would have the season he had last year. It was a disappointment to Max that we didn't win state because he saw that bar of what Jake (Heaps) did so he wanted to live up to that. Max took it very, very hard.
- Skyline coach Mat Taylor
Moving Browne to varsity as a freshman was an easy decision so he could observe how Heaps ran the program. There was one play in particular that stood out to Taylor which really showed him Browne could be something special.

"The real true marking when we knew he was going to be really, really good was in the quarterfinals of his freshman year, he played the entire second half because we were up on a team 49-0 at halftime," Taylor said. "They had their starters in the whole game and they were very, very talented.

"Max stepped up in the pocket and delivered a corner route to the receiver and just got drilled by a kid that ended up going to Portland State and I remember talking in my headphones to the guys upstairs saying he's going to be special. That's pretty gutsy for a 14-year-old kid to just step up like that.

"In our very first game his sophomore year he threw for 415 yards in his very first varsity start. There are many times where he stays in there and gets drilled right after he throws it and he just has tremendous poise and moxie in the pocket."

Comparisons to Heaps have come and probably won't stop, but Taylor makes it a point never to evaluate the two quarterbacks in that way. Heaps, the top-rated pro-style quarterback in the 2010 class by Rivals.com, and Browne are different players and Taylor said it isn't fair to compare them.

"I have made it a point from Day 1 that we're not going to compare these kids," Taylor said. "That's just how I am and also because it's not fair to Jake and it's not fair to Max.

"Nobody knew Max would have the season he had last year. It was a disappointment to Max that we didn't win state because he saw that bar of what Jake did so he wanted to live up to that. Max took it very, very hard."

Recruiting heats up

One similarity no one can deny is that, like Heaps, Browne has already been identified by numerous college coaches as a top priority on their recruiting boards.

Five programs from three major conferences - the Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten - have already offered. There's no doubt countless others are showing interest, waiting to see how Browne performs early in his junior season.

Browne was one of the top quarterbacks at the Stanford Elite 11 regional and the Seattle NIKE Camp this off-season. He is arguably one of the most-polished quarterbacks in the country regardless of class.

Taylor said Browne isn't getting a bloated ego though. He hasn't missed an off-season workout, even hitting the weight room after Skyline basketball practice through the winter.

"He still has that baby face and he has that blond afro going on," Taylor said. "He was kind of goofy looking (as a freshman) but he's really filled out. He's almost 210 pounds now and he's close to 6-5. He just works his tail off."

Browne said he doesn't get too worked up about rankings - even if he's on track to be one of the top quarterbacks in the 2013 class. A commitment will probably come before his senior season - still a painstaking year away - but Browne doesn't seem too concerned about college football yet.

He has unanswered business at Skyline. That's his focus. The rest, he said, will take of itself.

"I would probably like to commit before my senior year but right now I'm wide open to any school that comes in," Browne said.

"Some schools are waiting to see what I do the first couple games of my junior year. I'm aware junior year is a big year for recruiting but at the same time I know winning ball games will help my chances."

Winning one game - the state championship - is Browne's main goal.

Adam Gorney can be reached at adamgorney@yahoo.com. You can follow him on Twitter @adamgorney.



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