CHAPEL HILL — Excited over the thought of playing in a football game for the first time in almost 21 months, North Carolina cornerback Charles Brown said he could barely sleep Monday night. So the redshirt senior did the next best thing: He fantasized about his expected start in Saturday's matchup against Rutgers at Kenan Stadium.
"I just keep seeing myself intercepting the ball 10 different ways," the 5-foot-10, 205-pound defensive back from Cleveland said Tuesday, grinning. "... I had a long time to watch the games and watch people make mistakes, so I don't want to make any of those mistakes. I want to go out there and play the perfect game. I know that's not realistic, but I just can't wait to get back out there on the field."
After starting 13 games in 2009, Brown sat out last season as part of the academic portion of the NCAA investigation. Then last spring, he was suspended for Saturday's season-opening win against James Madison after the NCAA determined he had accepted $86.94 worth of benefits "from an individual identified as a prospective agent prior to the 2010 season," according to a UNC news release.
Despite missing 14 straight games - dating back to the Dec., 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl - Brown returns as the most seasoned member of a secondary that saw several preseason shifts because of injuries and inexperience. He and his coaches are itching for him to make an impact.
"Obviously he's got a bunch of experience, and I think he will be a guy that will help solidify some things back there in the secondary," interim coach Everett Withers said. "It's good to get Charles back. I'm happy for him, because I think he's been through a lot as a young man, and he's done everything up 'til now that we've wanted him to do to get ready to play. So I'm excited to see him play."
Asked about the reasoning behind the NCAA's opening-game penalty that kept him out Saturday, Brown said: "It wasn't explained to me in the detail that I would have liked it to be, because I felt like I shouldn't have sat out that game for that. But I did some things that I shouldn't have done. The improper benefits and stuff like that - I didn't really do what they say I did. But it is what it is. I've just got to go with it, and keep looking forward."
Brown honed his skills on the scout team for a year. He said he kept a positive attitude through prayer and talks with his family, and he believes there's much to look forward to this season.
"I want to be the best cornerback in college football," he said. "If I can't do that, I want to be the second-best. And if I can't do that, I want to be the third-best. I just want to be the best that I can be - and if that's 10 interceptions, if that's two interceptions, that's what I want to be."
To that end, even when Brown finally got to sleep on Monday night, he said he dreamed about the ways he might pick off a pass or two Saturday. In his favorite vision, he was defending a post route.
"I jumped up, caught the ball, the receiver was on my back, I kind of shook him off, then I took it all the way back to the end zone," he said, grinning again. "But I woke up before I scored, so I don't know if I scored or not."
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