From his size to his post-football aspirations, there is nothing remotely tiny about Derrick Brown — nicknamed Baby Barack at Auburn. When he wasn’t thwarting triple-teams or mauling quarterbacks as one of the nation’s best defensive linemen, Brown devoted himself to helping others, on campus and in the community.
He presided over the committee that represents student-athletes at Auburn, conveying their feedback in regular meetings with university administrators and athletic officials. As a member of the Southeastern Conference’s Student-Athlete Leadership Council, Brown fought for a bump in entertainment money given to students hosting football recruits, up to $75 from $40. He built homes on mission trips to the Dominican Republic, worked at toy drives and food banks and visited a school near Auburn reeling from tornado damage.
“There’s stuff that he’d do that he never told us about,” his father, James Brown, said, “and we’d have to find out about it on Twitter.”
James Brown — a deputy sheriff in Gwinnett County, Ga. — and his wife, Martha, a manager at a Walmart, urged their three children not to embrace mediocrity and instilled within them a commitment to service. On Saturdays, they picked up trash outside the elementary school. On Sundays, after church, they helped take out the garbage there. They volunteered around their county and donated canned goods to the Salvation Army.
As Derrick Brown began to draw interest from dozens of major programs, he conveyed to coaches that he was not attending college only to play football. Instead of declaring early for the draft, Brown — who probably would have been chosen in the first round a year ago — spurned the riches of the N.F.L. and returned for his senior season, graduating in December. He has a 16-month-old son, Kai, and what kind of example would he be setting, Brown reasoned, if he didn’t complete his degree in marketing?
“I want to break the stereotype that football players are dumb and all this stuff,” he said in a telephone interview. “I’m one of the people that, if you sit down with me and you take that approach, I’m really going to make you change your mind.”
He intends to pursue a career in marketing or law enforcement, perhaps in the F.B.I., though his position coach at Auburn, Rodney Garner, believes he should run for public office. Eventually.
“He has no limitations,” Garner said. “Football is what he does. It’s not who he is.”