RIPON — Andrew Brown has counted ‘em all, one by one.
He started youth football in fourth grade and, eight years later, approaches game No. 92 of his career Saturday afternoon. It will be his biggest – Ripon Christian’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division 6 title game against Bradshaw Christian at the Lodi Grape Bowl at 1 p.m.
Brown also knows this: It could be his last game. The games surely matter to him. If not, why attach each one to a number?
The thought that he might be closing a big door in his young life leaves him uncomfortable.
“I’m happy if this is the ending,” he said this week, “but you never know what will happen. I’m not going to say no to anything.”
Brown stands 5-foot-9 and weighs about 175 pounds, not exactly the optimum physique for the next level. In a perfect world, Brown would tee it up every day forever. He wears his passion for the game in his smile and his good nature and his nonstop commitment. He can’t wait for the championship game and, later, he’ll let the future come to him.
Besides, how can you top being one of the most prolific running backs in the history of the Stanislaus District?
“It goes to my parents for how they raised me,” he said. “Hard work, when applied correctly, can put you in a good spot.”
His spot is reserved for the very few:
• He owns the district’s single-season rushing record of 2,626 yards, set this year.
• He’s compiled 5,774 yards in three varsity seasons, only 260 behind career district leader Ja’Quan Gardner of Central Valley.
• His 122 career touchdowns is tied for third in the state behind Lorenzo Booker of St. Bonaventure High of Ventura (1999-2001).
• He has scored 575 career points, the third-highest in state history (according to the 2008 edition of the Cal-Hi sports record book) and the section’s highest-ever total.
Such a body of work illustrates why Ripon Christian, in its 10th varsity season, has topped back-to-back trips to the semifinals the last two years with a shot at the blue banner Saturday.
Brown has not surprised RC coach Randy Fasani, the former Stanford quarterback. He served as the Knights’ offensive coordinator the previous three years, so he understands what Brown has meant to his ascending program.
“Andrew’s strongest quality as a running back is his vision. He sees the defenders before they’re close to him,” Fasani said. “He’s elusive and doesn’t take too many hard hits.”
Brown even impressed his teammates, who thought they already had seen his best, when he scored his 100th career touchdown at Delhi. Pushed off-balance by a defender, he somehow tiptoed about 10 yards down the sideline and dove for the pylon with the ball.
“I have a great view to watch him. He hits holes I don’t even see,” said Billy Marr, RC’s slim, 6-3 junior quarterback. “Andrew is one of the most down to earth guys I know.”
All the touchdowns almost force RC observers to grade him on a more demanding curve. They notice the total package – how he hardly ever leaves the field (he starts in the secondary), how he’s also thrown for four touchdowns and a trio of 2-point conversions and how he’s rounded out his game.
“The touchdowns don’t stand out anymore,” Fasani said. “It’s when he puts his head down, like he’s saying ‘Why do you want to hit me, linebacker?’ I like his toughness.”
What keeps Brown grounded, through all the high school glory racing his way, is the beauty of football as a team game. He’ll miss that the most when he hangs up his helmet and pads for good.
“I love 11 guys working together to achieve one goal,” he said. “In our sport, if there’s no team, you don’t succeed.”
He considers himself lucky that he’s avoided any concussions or head injuries (he broke his elbow during his second year of youth football). “There are a lot of risks. It’s scary,” he admitted.
Still, Brown and the Knights (10-2) have unfinished business. Two years ago, they were beaten by Bradshaw in the semifinals. Last fall, Brown injured his knee and missed most of the semifinal loss at Foresthill.
They finally crossed that bridge, via their 46-0 blanking of Woodland Christian, leaving Ripon Christian with one more hurdle to clear.
Hurdle No. 92, to be exact, for Brown.