(Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part series on Lenox native Spencer Brown being selected in the 2021 NFL draft.)
LENOX — “With the 93rd pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills select Spencer Brown, tackle, Northern Iowa.”
When Dawn Aponte, NFL chief football administrative officer, made that announcement on national television late Friday evening, all of the talk about the tall kid from Lenox having NFL potential turned into reality. He was six hours from boarding a flight from Des Moines to Buffalo, New York, to meet with team officials.
ESPN broadcasters were high on Brown’s prospects after the announcement.
“He just needs to be refined,” NFL draft analyst Chris Mortensen said on the telecast. “Maybe a seventh or eighth offensive lineman who can become one of your top five. He has all of the important traits. Develop him, simple as that.”
Development and patience are not new concepts for Brown, the son of Liz Jessen and Kurt Brown of Lenox. He was a 220-pound defensive end and tight end in rural Iowa eight-man football, barely noticed until first cousin Wade Samo convinced him he was good enough to assemble a highlight video for college coaches to view.
The process has been a long and winding road, including a few injury disruptions.
So, it almost seems fitting the wait to hear his name Friday night took just over four hours. (Brown was projected as a late second-round or third-round pick in pre-draft analysis. The second round began 6 p.m. Friday.)
Friends and family gathered at his mother’s house in Lenox were conversing and laughing and sampling a large spread of food during the early stages of the draft Friday. But as time wore on, and there were less than 10 selections left until the draft halted until late Saturday morning, the mood turned somber.
“I just tried to kill time playing bags with some of my teammates, or talking to friends and waiting like everyone else,” Brown said. “Things weren’t falling quite as my agent and I had hoped, so that kind of sucked the wind out of the building for awhile.”
Then, suddenly, there was a development late in the third round just after 10 p.m.
“I was scrolling on my phone, texting back and forth with my agent, and a Buffalo number came up,” Brown said. “I thought, I better take that! All of a sudden I’m sitting down in a chair and talking to the GM, the O-line coach and the owner of the team, trying to search for the right words to say.”
The waiting game was especially difficult for his parents.
“It was absolute torture,” Jessen said. “His agent had said some medical stuff coming out of the combine had some teams concerned. Spencer had a herniated disc last year and I guess some teams were worried about his back. His agent said it would was going to be difficult to be drafted Friday, but he was still working on it with 20 picks left. We were sitting around, moping, for lack of a better word, and suddenly, as I came out of the bathroom, I heard Tacy (Samo) screaming about Spencer getting a call. We went from almost crying out of sorrow, to holy cow, what’s happening?”
Kurt Brown, meanwhile, was tirelessly logging each draft selection for four hours, noting how many were taken from each position group as he tried to forecast when his son might be drafted.
“We had Spencer as like the sixth or seventh offensive lineman, and more than that went before him, so I was getting a little concerned,” Kurt Brown said. “But, as it turned out, it’s awesome that he will be playing in Buffalo with (quarterback) Josh Allen. It’s great!”
At nearly 6-foot-9 and 311 pounds, with the agility of a five-sport high school athlete who once had 42 points and 41 rebounds in a basketball game, Brown was considered one of the top offensive tackles in this year’s draft, despite not playing a senior season. UNI’s season was delayed when the Missouri Valley Football Conference postponed its season to this spring.
Brown and teammate Elerson Smith opted to train and prepare for the draft, and not miss important draft-related events such as pro day testing and the Senior Bowl in January.
Busy draft day
Ten of his UNI teammates and many family members and friends in this close-knit community were gathered to share the night with Brown Friday, after several of them had golfed together earlier in the day following a hearty breakfast at Chubs, located nearby at Tiger Lanes.
On Friday afternoon, Spencer drove around town with Jerek Wolcott of the UNI media/communications staff, who was putting together a draft day video released over the weekend on social media. In that video, Brown spoke of the support he’s received in the community and how special it was to grow up in Lenox.
His family felt the same level of support, as several people chipped in with party preparation plans, displays of draft memorabilia and many food options for those attending. Much of the viewing of the draft was in the open double garage of the home, but there was some spillover into the front yard and adjacent rooms, where additional televisions were set up.
“This has small town Iowa written all over it,” Kurt Brown said, scanning the crowd of people assembled behind him, watching the draft with the family.
Another cousin, Jake Samo, had a Spencer Brown display at his downtown business, Hometown Insurance, including a life size cardboard cutout of Brown in uniform.
“It’s small town love,” Jessen said. “It’s humbling. People you don’t even know are cheering for your kid. It was cool watching Jerek’s video and hearing Spencer’s appreciation of all of that. He’s never forgotten where he came from. And he won’t.”
Based on conversations with her son, Jessen had ordered six NFL flags to display if her son was selected — Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills. After his selection, the Bills flag was displayed prominently in the yard as fireworks were set off just before 10:30 p.m.
It was definitely a party atmosphere, with several still celebrating as Spencer and his mother departed for Des Moines at 3:30 a.m. so he could board a 5:50 a.m. flight to Buffalo. He returned late Sunday afternoon after meeting with team officials and touring the facilities. (His jersey number has not been assigned yet and contract details are not finalized.)
Team on the rise
Buffalo was 13-3 in 2020, tied for most wins in franchise history. The Bills appeared in the AFC title game for the first time since 1993. The organization is serious about protecting quarterback Josh Allen, as the team’s selection after Brown was another offensive tackle in Tommy Doyle, 6-8, 320-pounder from Miami of Ohio.
The team’s roster includes former University of Iowa players Ike Boettger, Micah Hyde and A.J. Epenesa, and former Iowa State Cyclone A.J. Klein. Smith, Brown’s UNI teammate, was selected in the fourth round by the New York Giants as an edge rusher.
When Brown heard his name announced on TV by Aponte, he had already received the call from the Bills and the garage had erupted in screams and tears. The emotions flowed again when his name was announced officially. Brown just put his hands on his head, seemingly in disbelief.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he said. “I’m just trying to keep my head on without it blowing up, to be honest. I’ve thought about that day, hearing your name in the draft, but I still don’t know how to react. The emotions of the night right then, it was like flipping a switch.”
Brown knows he has a lot of people pulling for him now. The fandom of the Buffalo Bills spiked exponentially in Taylor County, and much of surrounding southwest Iowa.
“As much as it’s about me, it’s about the community and the people,” Brown said. “All of the southwest Iowa towns, really. It’s a ‘you’re one of us’ type of thing. I just hope to do my best to represent them.”
Southwest Iowa NFL draftees in history: Dave Becker, Atlantic, 1979 (12th-312); Spencer Brown, Lenox, 2021 (3-93); Al Couppee, Council Bluffs Thomas Jefferson, 1942 (22-196); Scott Davis, Glenwood, 1993 (6-150); Ed Podolak, Atlantic, 1969 (2-48); Brandon Scherff, Denison, 2015 (1-5); Duane Miller, Mount Ayr, 1970 (6-142); Bob Hendren, Clarinda, 1946 (7th round). (Source: KMA sports.)
(Tuesday’s part two: Spencer Brown overcomes the loss of a fall 2020 football season with a training regimen involving the guidance of a former NFL Pro Bowl lineman.)