Growing to be the best player one can be is easier said than done.
Current University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) forward J.T. Brown has done that and more as he continues on a path of a story book start to his collegiate career with the #1 ranked UMD Bulldogs.
Brown's Bulldogs just completed a weekend sweep over the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison where he picked up 2 assists in the series that featured a pair of overtime wins. Those wins maintained the Bulldog's hold in the WCHA on first place and are ranked number one in the nation.
The ultra talented wing capped off his high school career by becoming the first African-American to be nominated as a Mr. Hockey Finalist in Minnesota. That alone is an achievement and when discussing that with his father Ted, a former Vikings running back for 8 years, there is pride in his voice.
"That is a huge step for kids of color," Ted Brown said. "It doesn't matter what it is that you want to do. Don't let anybody tell you that you can't do it. If you work hard enough and do the right things, you will succeed at something.
“He (J.T.) has had a lot of obstacles along the way and he has overcome those to be the best kid that he can possibly be and I am so proud of him."
J. T. Brown led his Rosemount Irish his senior year to a 20 win season in 2007-2008. The Irish fell short in their State Tournament bid where they eventually fell to the Woodbury Royals in the section playoffs. He put up massive numbers in his high school career as he collected 75 goals and 65 assists for 140 points over three seasons. His 75 career goals are the most in Rosemount school history.
"It was a lot of fun playing with my line-mates and friends, putting it together. Our seasons never really went the way we needed them to go to get anywhere," J.T. said.
"High school was just a fun time looking back at it."
J.T. has developed into a humble, skilled, driven, unselfish, and motivated contributor to the Bulldogs with an eye on a professional career. Even though he is un-drafted, a potential free agent contract is in the waiting when his college career comes to a close. A pair of NHL teams have already discussed that option with him. He has the experience of his father to utilize for perspective.
It was at an early age that Brown was interested in hockey as he grew up in a neighborhood where most of the kids played hockey. He followed suit and began skating at the age of 5.
J.T. eventually took to hockey while playing football until he was in Junior High and baseball into his sophomore and junior year at Rosemount High School. According to his father, J.T. found his passion in hockey.
"He played other sports too,” Ted said. “But he found hockey was his passion and his love."
It has been a balance and realistic approach to how team sports work that the elder Brown has been able to impress on his son.
"I tell him, it is a team sport,” Ted said. “You need to play with your teammates, you need to make them better.
“I know something about team sports, although I don't know a lot about hockey and all the ins and outs of it, I know what he needs to do get better and that means to skate hard and play hard and give it his best all the time."
For the younger, hockey-playing Brown, it has been a welcome part of his relationship with his father.
"He (Ted) is one of my biggest influences,” J.T. said in a recent interview. “Obviously his background was football. He has been able to give me his input and I value his input highly. Everything he says, I value highly, so he has influenced me a lot."
J.T. has a legitimate handle on what it takes to be a well rounded college hockey player and student. He is humble in his approach and does not seek out praise for his efforts.
So humble that when Brown was named the WCHA Freshman of the month for October, he did not even tell his father.
Through 14 games this season, Brown is averaging more than a point a game (5g-10a-15pts) and is 5th on his team in points.
"I definitely wasn't expecting to step in and do that right away," Brown said. "That was one of my goals to come into the team and actually produce and help the team win instead of just sitting back.
“I wanted to actually come in, and help contribute to the team which has been going pretty well right now."
With an emphasis on his education, J.T. knows the lessons of life go well beyond the rink. He admits playing at the next level is a goal, yet understands it is difficult to get there.
"That is something I am working towards and hopefully that opportunity does come for me," Brown said. "If it doesn't, hopefully then I have my four year degree to go along with it. That is my main goal after college to try to get somewhere and play beyond college." His father agrees that education is the top priority.
"There are a lot of good hockey players,” Ted said. “The world is full of good hockey players and you have to be one of the best hockey players to make that leap from college to pro. In the meantime, he needs to worry about his studies, he needs to worry about staying in school and graduating first because you have something to fall back on."
J.T. chose UMD over other schools that recruited him as he felt he would have a chance not only to contribute to the team but also win a National Championship.
"I haven't won anything in my career yet," J.T. said. "Getting a good chance to win and contribute would be one of the main reasons I chose UMD."
The Bulldogs have a legitimate competitor on their hands that is making a difference in the early stages of his college career. If things work out for the former Rosemount Irish star, an NHL organization will land themselves a gifted, unselfish, grounded citizen and player.