The intensity of the N.C. State-North Carolina rivalry has been embedded into Izzy Brown’s life from the very beginning.
Her father, Chucky Brown, was a Wolfpack basketball star in the late 1980s before embarking on a 13-year NBA career. Growing up, Izzy Brown spent lots of time on the N.C. State campus with him, absorbing the fanfare as Chucky was stopped by passers-by for handshakes, signatures and photos.
But when Brown was given the opportunity to continue her own soccer career at one of the two universities’ programs, she picked prestige over pedigree: The allure of UNC’s team, sporting 22 national championships in the last 36 years, was too enticing to pass up.
“I have family ties with N.C. State and obviously it was a big choice,” the forward said. “My teammates were so supportive, and I talked about it with other people and they just think that UNC is the right choice. I envisioned myself there and I thought that was the place to be.”
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A quick learner
Brown’s soccer career almost ended barely after it began. Her father recalls her first experience with the sport at age 4 resulted in her quitting. But peer pressure pulled her back: When her neighbor then joined a youth team, Brown soon followed suit.
“I wanted to be just like her, so I signed up for soccer,” she said. “Really early I noticed that I was always the person that was scoring goals. … and I realized that yes, this is just what I love to do.”
Brown’s steadfast work ethic and dedication to the sport immediately became evident.
“I can remember when she cried because she could only juggle the ball four times,” said Chucky Brown. “Then within a week, she kept working on it, and it was up to 150. It’s been awesome to watch her and not have to tell her ‘You need to go practice.’ She just does it on her own.”
In time, that diligence paid off with starring roles with both her school and club teams.
Izzy Brown’s career began with the Futbol Club of Cary, where she played until around age 10, when the team disbanded as players moved on to other clubs to play at the “Classic” level – the top level of youth soccer in North Carolina. Brown joined Triangle Futbol Club, where she played until switching to the Capital Area Soccer League’s Elite Clubs National League team last year.
For CASL’s U15 ECNL team, she tallied six goals and two assists in 19 games as the squad finished atop the Mid-Atlantic Conference standings.
As one of only two freshmen on the Green Hope varsity roster in 2015, Brown scored five goals in 19 appearances to help the Falcons win the Southwest Wake conference title with a 14-1-1 record.
“Some games, depending on who we were playing, (her role) was to win balls out of the air and be a strong physical presence in the midfield,” said Stacy Lamb, Green Hope women’s soccer coach. “Some days, it was for her to be up top and be a target and be an attacking presence.
“I think the fact that she didn’t really have one clear role for Green Hope really speaks to Izzy’s versatility and her being just a complete player. She’s so talented, she could change based on whatever the team needs her to be.”
Despite being only a rising sophomore, such success at both the high school and club levels prompted the interest of several ACC schools in Brown, who eventually narrowed her top three choices to UNC, N.C. State and Wake Forest.
During the process, she said she drew on the advice and support of a number of mentors.
Damon Nahas, Brown’s coach in CASL and an assistant coach for the UNC Women’s Soccer program, helped walk her through the process as both a player and a recruit. Lamb also kept watch during Brown’s recruitment process, although Lamb said she tried to help Brown think critically about the process without actually influencing her opinion.
And Chucky Brown, for all of his red-and-white loyalties, repeatedly emphasized his support of any college in which she was interested.
UNC replied faster to communications and generally went about the recruitment process faster than the other schools did, Izzy Brown said, which helped swing her in the direction of Chapel Hill. Finally, on June 13, Brown announced her commitment to coach Anson Dorrance’s program.
Although it is unusual for players to commit with three years left before they actually arrive, it’s not unprecedented – three of Brown’s friends committed before she did. Maggie Pierce and Brianna Pinto, both fellow members of CASL’s ECNL program, are also headed to UNC while Maya Gordon, a friend playing in Florida, is committed to Louisiana State.
My life kind of revolves around soccer. So I just fit everything else in after practice or before.
UNC soccer recruit Izzy Brown
Brown said that UNC has passed along general expectations for her athletic and academic progress for the coming years, but that her commitment – despite her age – is still just the same as any other.
Now that the burden of the college search is off her shoulders, she’s focusing more exclusively on her soccer game, practicing two to three hours a day during the summer.
“My life kind of revolves around soccer,” she said, “so I just fit everything else in after practice or before.”
The new intrafamily rivalry is all in good fun now, father and daughter say – but Chucky Brown knows it might turn more serious later.
“(She’s) got my full support, but it’s going to take some time to put on the Carolina blue colors. It may happen, but I’m not promising,” said Chucky Brown, laughing heartily. “It may be a little rivalry when we play in football and basketball; I know who she’s going to be cheering for and I know who I’m going to be cheering for.”
The news was a bigger hit with now-NBA analyst Kenny Smith, a UNC graduate who was a teammate of his former in-state rival on the 1994-95 Houston Rockets NBA championship team.
“I told Kenny Smith about the story and he just busted out laughing,” said Chucky Brown.
Her college commitment secured, Izzy Brown said it feels like a massive weight off her shoulders, but even loftier goals now beckon.
She’s hoping to attend a national camp for the U.S. Women’s National Team in the future, and hoping that recent improvements in her endurance and “knowing where to be” can carry her there. With training continuing throughout the summer, there’s little time to enjoy the limelight.
“I’ve been working so hard, and it’s so nice to see it all pay off,” she said. “But there’s still work to do.”