ORONO, Maine — There is a subdued swagger and confidence to Pushaun Brown.
Whether he’s flashing his disarming smile while walking the halls of Memorial Gym or pounding through opposing defenses on Morse Field, he simply goes with the flow.
Brown has methodically and quietly developed into one of the more productive running backs in University of Maine football history.
For Brown, who spent much of his first three seasons working hard for the chance to showcase his talent, now is his time.
He is the featured tailback for the 11th-ranked UMaine football team, which will try to improve its position in the upcoming Football Championship Subdivision playoffs when it clashes with No. 12 New Hampshire Saturday at noon in the rivals’ regular-season finale at Durham, N.H.
After playing behind the likes of Jhamal Fluellen and Jared Turcotte, Brown has emerged to provide the Black Bears (8-2 overall, 6-1 Colonial Athletic Association) with a tough, productive tailback.
“He has earned this opportunity that he has to be our marquee back, our guy that we want to get the ball to,” said UMaine head coach Jack Cosgrove.
Brown has rushed for 1,987 yards in 39 games to place 10th on UMaine’s career rushing list. He is poised to become the 10th 2,000-yard rusher and pass Ben Sirmans (2,025 yards, 1998-92) for ninth place.
That seems a bit surprising, considering regular playing time came in fits and starts for Brown, a 5-foot-9, 210-pounder from North Brunswick, N.J.
He joined the Black Bears in 2008 and played a small role in helping UMaine reach the FCS Playoffs while spelling Fluellen and Turcotte.
It wasn’t until late in the 2010 season, with Turcotte having succumbed to injuries, that Brown became the full-time starter. He wound up as the Bears’ top rusher (135 carries, 650 yards).
“It definitely can get frustrating,” admitted Brown, who leaned on his older brother Patrick, a former player at Bethune-Cookman who is now in the Canadian Football League, for guidance.
Patrick Brown simply told Pushaun to worry about what he could control, his attitude and work ethic, and things would work out.
“Complaining about your situation, that’s not going to be positive at all,” Brown said, “so you’ve just got to keep on working, getting after it, and producing, not moping around.”
Brown has followed through with that philosophy and been rewarded for it.
He stepped into the full-time starting role late last season and finished 2010 with three straight 100-yard rushing performances. That trend carried over into 2011 as Brown extended his 100-yard efforts against FCS competition to six games.
Brown is a mulitfaceted back. When healthy, he has the speed and field vision to break long touchdown runs.
Yet he is perhaps more recognized for his physical style and his determination running between the tackles. Brown is able to get the tough yards.
“He’s a talented runner,” Cosgrove said. “He does what’s necessary: He can run over people, run away from people, run around people. I don’t know as you can say he’s got one style.”
Cosgrove also praised Brown for his ability to hang onto the ball despite taking big hits and his skill in providing pass protection against blitzing linebackers and safeties.
Brown, who has carried 173 times for 867 yards and nine touchdowns this fall, has embraced his role while keeping it in perspective.
“That’s definitely an honor to have your coaches and your teammates have the level of confidence and faith in you to want to get you the ball, that you’re going to make the plays when the team needs them,” Brown said.
His productivity this season has been hampered by injuries. He has been dealing with a nagging thigh problem that limited his action in at least two games and kept him out of the Nov. 5 contest against Towson.
He returned last Saturday against Massachusetts and gained 144 yards on 26 carries.
“His abilities are pretty thorough and complete,” Cosgrove said. “He pass protects, catches the ball and he runs for tough yards when we need big yards.”
UMaine was the only school to offer Brown a scholarship. He came from what he described as a football family and emulated his brother, who is now on the practice squad with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Brown was pleased to be able to earn a scholarship. It would lessen the burden on his mother, Sherry Brown, who at the time was helping send Patrick to Rutgers (he was a walk-on).
“There were periods of time in my life where my mom had to raise us as a single parent,” Pushaun explained. “Seeing her be able to overcome problems and stand strong for us, that definitely made me and my brother want to put ourselves in positive to pay her back and make things easier for her as soon as we were able to.”
Brown, a child development and family relations major, hopes he has set a good example for his teammates as one of 16 seniors on this year’s playoff-bound team.
He and the Bears are trying to stay focused in their quest to make a strong postseason run.
“We’ve seen both sides of it, the success in ’08 and the struggles the last two years,” Brown said.
“We know what the ultimate goal is, but we try not to focus on that or get ahead of ourselves,” he added. “We just need to get better, work as a team.”