Brown's heart never left Penn State

NORMAN, Okla. -- After years as a diehard Penn Stater, Adam Taliaferro quietly has followed a second college football team this season.

Watching a fellow Nittany Lion. Watching Sooners wide receiver Justin Brown.

"It was hard for a lot of Penn Staters to understand," said Taliaferro, an attorney who played defensive back for coach Joe Paterno, defied odds to overcome a career-ending spinal cord injury, and in the spring overwhelmingly was elected to the Penn State Board of Trustees.

"But Justin is still part of the Penn State family."

A year ago to the week, former Nittany Lions assistant Jerry Sandusky was arrested on sexual assault charges, rocking the college football world while changing Penn State football forever. The same week, Paterno was removed as coach and later accused of covering up Sandusky's crimes.

"A lot happened that week, and honestly, it still hasn't set in," Brown said. "At some point, I'll go back and relive it and try to get a full grasp of it. But not now."

A lot has happened to Brown in the past year, as well.

He saw his team and his campus turn into a media sideshow. He watched the coach who recruited him and admired fall into ignominy then pass away.

"It was like we didn't have our leader anymore," said Brown, who admitted to being emotional about Paterno's death. "I still thought I'd see him at the next workout, the next practice. And he wasn't there."

Over the summer, the NCAA levied unprecedented sanctions against Penn State, including a hefty fine, scholarship losses and a four-year bowl ban. The NCAA also said all Penn State players could transfer without sitting out a season.

Brown was contacted by a host of schools. But ultimately, after a covert visit to Norman, Okla., his decision came down to two options. Go to Oklahoma. Or stay at Penn State.

"I don't think he wanted to leave Penn State," Sooners receivers coach Jay Norvell said. "He would not have left for anywhere else than here and the opportunity here. He loved Penn State and he still loves Penn State. And he loves his teammates there. I don't think he was getting out. I just think he really wanted the opportunity to play at Oklahoma, to play in our offense, to play with a quarterback like Landry Jones."

Brown has been making the most of his opportunity. In Saturday's 35-20 win at Iowa State, he produced his first 100-yard receiving game as a Sooner. He hauled in a 40-yard bomb along the sideline to set up an Oklahoma touchdown seconds before halftime. Then on the opening drive of the third quarter, Brown snagged a tipped pass for a touchdown that was one of the Top 10 Plays of the Day on ESPN's "SportsCenter."

Brown also ranks fourth in the country in punt returns for the Sooners, who are on track for a BCS bowl berth.

"Justin has made a huge impact," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He's a guy that you can put the ball up to, and even [when he's] covered, he has a great opportunity to come down with it. He's a great player."

But while he's having success on the field, this season has included a tinge of melancholy for Brown. The moment he transferred, he began receiving death threats on his Twitter account from the same people who had been cheering him on the year before.

"He was getting bashed a lot -- it wasn't received well by a lot of fans," said former Nittany Lions receiver Derek Moye, who hosted Brown on his official visit to Penn State. "But I told him he had to do what's best for him. At the beginning of the season, it looked like he'd be in a more stable position in Oklahoma with Landry Jones. It was tough to tell what the Penn State offense would look like."

Still every Saturday, Brown still has an eye cast toward State College. He hurt with his former team when they lost heartbreakers to Ohio and Virginia early in the season. He was pumped last weekend when they beat Purdue to move to 6-3.

"I miss my teammates, my friends there. I mean, I was there for three years," Brown confessed. "But I think I did what was best for me and my family at that time. I'm not going to go back and say I wish I had done this or I should have done this. You can't live life like that. You can't live life with regrets. Once that opportunity was put on the table, I knew I was going to have to make a tough decision either way."

Though tough, the decision has worked out well. Brown essentially won a starting job the day he stepped on campus, even though the Sooners had been practicing a week. He quickly developed a rapport with Jones on the field while bonding with his teammates off it.

"It could have gone two ways with Justin," said Kenny Stills, the only proven returning receiver from last season. "But he did a really good job meshing with our guys. He's part of the family now and all the guys love him."

Even though he's no longer there, Brown's blood still bleeds a little blue. He'll still be able to get his degree in communications from Penn State, which would have been a deal-breaker for his going to Oklahoma.

"Penn State is always going to be Penn State," Brown said. "That university is still going to be a good university. They have great academics and a great campus.

"They won't let what happened and what one man did bring the whole university down."

Taliaferro, who's now working to improve the culture and perception of Penn State, agrees.

And just like before, he still messages Brown a few times a month. Checks the Oklahoma box scores. And watches whenever the Sooners are on TV.

"That's my guy right there," Taliaferro said. "He's in Oklahoma now.

"But I'll always think of him as a Penn State guy."