ATLANTA — Lanier grad Derrick Brown was back in his hometown Wednesday.
The Auburn senior, considered a high first-round draft pick, is a finalist for numerous honors, including Defensive Player of the Year and the Outland Trophy for the nation's most outstanding interior lineman.
The presentation ceremony is Thursday night at the College Football Hall of Fame (7 p.m., ESPN).
“Man, what a great ride it's been,” Brown said. “It's just starting to hit me that it's over with.”
On Monday, Brown was named the SEC Defensive Player of the Year. On Saturday, he'll graduate with his degree, which was a significant factor in eschewing the NFL Draft last year.
“If I hadn't, I would have had to come back over the next three springs to finish school,” Brown said. “I was able to knock out the 27 hours I had left and finish my minor as well. That was big for me.
"Also I got to spend the first year of his life with my son. That was a big part of it, being able to be a daddy.”
Brown, an admitted germaphobe, didn't want to bring his son to all the games this season. He was there for the Iron Bowl, though, and went on the Tiger Walk — primarily because his son had a fit when Brown tried to hand him back to his mom.
“He's the new shining light in my life,” Brown said. “Every single day he brings new adventures to me. It's been amazing to finish practice and go home to be with my son.”
Another reason to stay for his senior season was to play with younger brother Kameron, who was a freshman.
“He keeps me on my toes,” Derrick said with clear affection in his voice. “I love my little brother to death and I'd do anything for him, but he hasn't quite gotten that whole concept of, on Sunday morning we've got to wake up early and go meet my parents before they leave. My dad is sitting around for a while and then my dad is getting unhappy.
"Kam comes over and it's just like I never left home.”
He grinned widely.
“I definitely tried to help him wherever I could,” Brown said. “When he was feeling down about some things, being there and being a big brother. Sometimes you just have to take a step back from everything you've got going on and be there for family.”
Those familial bonds with all his Tiger teammates might lead him to play for Auburn against Minnesota in the Outback Bowl. It's a decision Brown told his coaches he would make this week.
“Just finishing the season with my team,” Brown said of the pros to playing. “A lot of people worry about injury, but at the end day, if that was the case, you wouldn't have played the season.”
The 6-foot-5, 318-pound game-wrecker finished the regular season with 50 tackles, 12.5 for a loss, and four sacks. He forced a pair of fumbles and had two fumble returns, one of which was nearly a touchdown against Florida.
Brown stormed onto the scene as a sophomore with 57 tackles, 9.5 for loss and three sacks. He followed that with a 48-tackle, 4.5-sack junior season. Brown only added to his legacy — and draft status — as a senior to finish with a career total of 166 tackles, 34 for loss, and 12.5 sacks.
“I give credit to everybody I've ever played with,” he said. “If I'm able to win either one of these trophies then it's full credit to my teammates.”