LSU Tigers: 130710 Tales from the Road

MONROE, La. -- Who is Laurence Jones? Most people know him as the top football recruit from Neville High School, ranked No. 23 in the ESPN 300 -- and No. 2 among safeties -- with scholarship offers from elite programs across the country. But those closest to him know him better as 'Hootie,' a nickname he received from his late grandmother when he was just months old.

“When I was younger and I was a baby, my eyes were so big like an owl, like a hoot owl, so they just started calling me 'Hootie,' ” Jones said.

[+] EnlargeLaurence Jones
Greg Ostendorf/ESPNESPN 300 safety 'Hootie' Jones doesn't talk much about his recruitment, but he did say Alabama is one of his favorites.
The nickname stuck. His friends now call him that. His coaches call him that. Even his teachers refer to him at Hootie during school. When Neville head coach Mickey McCarty first met Jones as a 7th grader, he was introduced to him not as Laurence but as Hootie. McCarty didn’t ask questions. He just went with it. Eventually, he too heard the story.

ESPN 300 defensive back Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen) is a mama's boy through and through. His mother, Tammy Walker-Brown, will tell you so without hesitation.

But there isn’t a voice on this earth that resonates more with Brown than his namesake father’s.

That’s precisely what has made the last year of Brown’s life the most difficult of the 17 he has lived: the silence.

[+] EnlargeTony Brown
Tom Hauck for Student SportsTop 2014 defensive back Tony Brown turned heads at The Opening with his elite athleticism.
His father suffered a stroke before the first day of the 2012-2013 school year. He could no longer speak.

After the stroke came a five-week long medically induced coma. Once the medicine stopped, he stayed in a coma for another six weeks.

All the while, silence. Still to this day, silence.

Silence through the most important and eventful year of Brown’s young but incredibly promising career.

Not only is Brown one of the most sought-after recruits in the country, with football royalty such as Mack Brown, Nick Saban and Les Miles in hot pursuit, he’s also one of the top hurdlers in the world. He’ll represent the United States at the 2013 Pan American Junior Athletics Championship in Medellin, Columbia, from Aug. 23-25.

Just last week, Brown's father moved back into their home for the first time since the stroke. He will be screaming in spirit as his son competes against the world’s best. It’s about all he can muster for the time being.

Tony Brown Sr. will gain the ability to speak again, his doctors say. When he does -- they say speech is often the last thing to return to a stroke survivor -- he’ll be able to commend his son for conquering the past year with dignity and perseverance.

Coping with a stroke

The events that would alter the course of Brown’s family happened, not surprisingly, with the younger Brown in the weight room and the elder Brown, then Ozen’s defensive coordinator, in the coach’s office game-planning for the 2012 season opener.

“One of the coaches came out and said I needed to call my mom,” Brown said. “I walked in to where they were and he looked like he was just passed out. His eyes were open and he couldn’t talk. We didn’t think it was anything serious. He didn’t eat anything for breakfast that morning, so I was thinking maybe he needed some sugar.”

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