STARKVILLE — Dan Mullen didn’t care how many stars were next to Fred Brown’s name in recruiting.
The Mississippi State football coach knew big things would be in store for the Jim Hill High School product if he could get the wide receiver into his program.
“We saw there was a guy that has a lot of potential,” Mullen said.
After redshirting as a freshman, Brown has made steady progress and has emerged this season as a consistent contributor. The 6-foot-1, 196-pounder has started every game this season and has 16 catches for 250 yards and one touchdown.
Brown hopes to continue to showcase his maturation when MSU (5-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) plays host to Kentucky (4-2, 2-2) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday (SEC Network) at Davis Wade Stadium. The Bulldogs will look to become bowl eligible for the sixth-straight season.
“When I first came in I was immature,” Brown said. “I’ve kind of grown over the years and started to learn the Bulldog way, playing with relentless effort, going out each and every play, and going hard.”
Brown’s decision to attend MSU football camps helped him catch the eyes of MSU’s coaches. The three-star prospect had 23 catches for 419 yards and five touchdowns as a senior in high school, so he was an unknown. But his performance in camps helped him separate himself and earn an offer from MSU.
Brown had a lot to learn, though. His redshirt year gave him time to understand what was expected of him.
“(He was) trying to figure it out, maybe not always doing the right thing all the time in his actions, but his maturity started with making good off-the-field decisions,” Mullen said. “All of a sudden, you see the maturity go from off the field into the classroom and then you see his GPA improve.”
As a redshirt freshman in 2013, Brown played in eight games and had five catches for 74 yards. Last season as a sophomore, he played in all 13 games (two starts) and made 18 catches for 299 yards and two touchdowns.
This season, Brown is excelling in a starting role this season. Last week, he played an instrumental role in a 45-20 victory against Louisiana Tech. Already without wide receivers Joe Morrow and Gabe Myles, MSU lost Fred Ross to an injury in the first half. Ross returned for the second half but played sparingly.
Ross’ injury opened the door for Brown, who made three catches for 63 yards. He caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Dak Prescott to help MSU extend its lead to 38-20 late in the third quarter.
Brown played all three wide receiver positions against Louisiana Tech. He is an outside receiver, but he had to play the slot position and both outside positions. In practice, he rarely plays another position, but his lack of experience didn’t show Saturday. His understanding of the other positions is one example of how much he has matured.
Co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales came to MSU in 2013 as Brown’s redshirt freshman season was about to start. Gonzales’ goal was to get his wide receivers to look at plays from different angles.
“Coach G always tells us to learn all the formations when we come in and learn all the concepts,” Brown said. “If you get the concepts, you can play any position at this stage.”
That’s why Brown felt comfortable against Louisiana Tech. Junior De’Runnya Wilson, who had seven catches for 85 yards and two touchdowns in the win, has faced double-teams this season, which led to Ross getting more catches. When Ross went down, Brown and Wilson took over.
“Everybody has to be ready when one man goes down. The next man has to step up and make those plays,” Brown said. “Coach G challenged me and Bear (Wilson) when Fred Ross went down. We made some plays to keep the game going and come back.”
Brown hopes to remain a threat the rest of the season. He is third on the team in catches and leads six MSU double-digit receivers with a 15.6-yard per catch average.
“That is what our program is all about to help young people succeed and understand, not just in football but also in life,” Mullen said. “Fred is an example of that type of a guy (who is) put into the program and all of a sudden he has success in a lot of different aspects of his life.”
Follow Dispatch sports writer Ben Wait on Twitter @bcwait
Ben Wait reports on Mississippi State University sports for The Dispatch.