Pharaoh Brown endured a gruesome injury in college that could have cost him his leg and his football career.
The veteran tight end overcame the obscurity of being an undrafted free agent and being buried on the Cleveland Browns’ bench.
Brown made it through a bout with COVID-19 this summer and a bad reaction to vaccination that affected his wind capacity at the start of training camp.
Now, Brown is embracing his hard-earned status as the Texans’ starting tight end heading into Sunday’s season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Although the former Oregon standout won’t relax and let up in his daily preparations, he’s soaking up the moment as he heads into the season as a significant part of the first-team offense working in tandem with tight end Jordan Akins.
At 6-foot-6, 258 pounds, Brown is the Texans’ largest and most versatile tight end.Starting Sunday, he’ll look to prove himself again in an expanded blocking and pass-catching role.
“I wouldn’t say I’m established just yet,” Brown said. “I’m still working every day. This year, I’ve been named the starter, so obviously I’ll be playing a lot more. Just taking advantage and doing one play at a time when I’m out there.
“Just one play at a time and just playing a game, I love it. I just look forward to playing my game. I don’t really think about, ‘Oh, I’ve got to go out there and do something.’ I just go out there and be Pharaoh, and that’ll be enough.”
The former Las Vegas Raiders and Browns reserve has excellent size and all-around skills for the position. In 13 games with nine starts, Brown caught 14 passes on 16 targets for 163 yards and two touchdowns last season.
“That's my dog," Akins said. "We just kind of work together and do our thing. Great guy, great personality. We learn from each other on and off the field. Personally, Pharaoh is a goofy guy, man. He’s very funny, nonchalant, laid back, great guy, really chill.”
When the Texans did their roster cutdown to 53 players, Brown was able to enjoy his job security. He knew he was going to be a part of the team.
“It’s a business, you never know what can happen,” he said. “I wasn’t nervous. I’m always just controlling what I can control. But you’ve got to just take those little victories and be grateful. I always said, you’ll miss a lot of stuff on the journey if you’re not paying attention to those small things, and that’s what makes the journey worth it.
“That’s what makes the process worth it. So I’ve always trusted my process, and that was just showing gratitude and just being thankful for what I’ve been through. Just like those small wins, you’ve got to keep that positivity.”
That’s how Brown approaches his job, especially when negativity surrounds the franchise with gloomy predictions of losing every game. Brown said he doesn’t let outside opinions consume him.
“Everybody has their own thing, some people may like to read it for motivation,” Brown said. “I see it sometimes when I’m trying to get my news from people, but at the end of the day, all predictions. No matter what somebody says, that’s their opinion. We’re in America, everybody’s got their opinions, but I look at it as just their opinion. But your opinion doesn’t have any effect on me. I know a lot of people say, ‘Oh, they’re going to come in last place. Oh, they’re going to do this. Oh, they’re not going to win a game. Oh, they’re tanking the season.’ I’m a player, I play. We play. As a leader on this team, the 11 people that are going to be out there, we’re going to play, period.
“We’re going out there to win. We’re going out there to put it on the line. So as long as we do that, I’m happy. I’ll be right here smiling no matter the result, because I know that my guys went out there, we went to war. We put 100 percent on the field. I used to like watching that stuff because that’s like motivation. I used to keep a tab on everybody, I might Tweet them back like, ‘Hey, what was that you were saying? You’ve got a chance to get back on the bandwagon, you know what I mean?’ So, hey, that’s what we like about sports, and that’s everybody’s opinion, and that’s why we like media. That’s why we like social media. That’s one of the good things about it.”
Toward that end, Brown devotes himself to his physical and mental preparations. He follows an extensive exercise routine, including work with local elite trainer Justin Allen, as well as yoga, physical therapy, massages, dry needle. His wife, Celeste, encourages him to take care of himself.
“I do a bunch of stuff,” he said. “I mean, I do it all. The game is about being available and that’s the biggest part of this game, is who’s available. You see a lot of people around that’s getting hurt here or there, so I just always take care of my body.
“It’s bigger than football. I have two sons, so you want to be able to be there once we retire to move around and run around with them. My wife is always on me to take care of my body and stuff, so it’s a group effort, group support to take care of myself.”
Brown frequently posts photos on social media of his family, including his oldest son, nearly 2-year-old Titus, and a newborn son, Cairo.
“Last Tampa Bay game, he actually watched a game for the first time,” Brown said. “Once he sees me warming up, I’ll go up to him. We watched the game last night together, so he knows. He’s interested.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years and has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128