The sport Chase and Sydney Brown grew up playing in Canada never quite represented the game they’ve taken by storm during their first season at Saint Stephen’s.
When they started playing flag football during elementary school in Ontario, the leagues were miniscule and scarce compared to the wealth of opportunities in Bradenton. As they got older and played for their high school, London South Collegiate Institute, it was in 12-man Canadian football. The public school’s roster wasn’t much bigger than the Falcons’ and the depth of talent was even thinner. The Browns, whose father played football at a Canadian college, were raised a bit differently than most of their peers. Hockey was too expensive and football was in their blood. They were put into flag football from a young age and quickly rose through the ranks on the back of an atypical football pedigree.
“Nobody knew much about it,” Chase Brown said. “We weren’t considered weird, but we were just known as the football guys.”
This year, the Brown twins have been perhaps the greatest revelation on the football field in Manatee County, despite each appearing in only eight games. Running back Chase Brown finished the regular season — which technically included a pair of postseason games for Saint Stephen’s — as the county’s leading rusher with 1,123 yards. Safety Sydney Brown is third on the Falcons with 58 total tackles and averages more than 23 yards per punt return.
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They arrived in Florida late during the summer as relative unknowns to head coach Tod Creneti and the rest of his Saint Stephen’s staff, but have quickly become irreplaceable members of a Falcon team that is one win away from returning to the Sunshine State Athletic Conference championship game for the second straight year. Saint Stephen’s travels up to Lecanto on Saturday to face Seven Rivers Christian at 7 p.m. in the Coral League championship and the Browns are two of the most important reasons why.
“We’re riding the Canadian train,” outside linebackers coach Jim Phelan said last month, a day after Saint Stephen’s (9-1) closed out its regular season with a win against Seffner Christian.
Even in Canada, the Browns were relatively unknown until this past summer. London is relatively small — it’s the sixth largest city in Ontario and sits about two hours outside of Toronto — and far from what even would qualify as a football hotbed in Canada. At a tryout for the IDFL 7-on-7 team, one of the country’s premier 7-on-7 programs, the Browns caught the eye of Justin Dillon from 730Scouting.
Dillon was intrigued by the twins’ blend of physicality and athleticism. Chase, the running back, had the burst to crash through the offensive line and the strength to shed tacklers in the secondary. Sydney, the safety, played with a contained recklessness that has earned him a reputation as one of the Falcons’ biggest hitters.
A few weeks later, they tried out for Team Ontario and Dillon was sold. The Browns had Division I potential.
“That was new ground that I was entering, the area that the twins are from,” Dillon said. “They’re D-I guys. I don’t care what anyone tells me. I know D-I talent and those guys have it.”
Dillon’s primary mission is to get attention for the oft-overlooked Canadian football market. Usually it means getting his players to American schools.
For the Browns, he picked Florida — he has a player at Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, as well — and saw Saint Stephen’s international population as an appeal. By mid-August, he had them ready to enroll at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School.
When they first took the field for a Falcon practice, Creneti had seen some film, although the different nature of the sport in Canada made it hard to glean too much information about the players.
Their debut had to wait until Week 3, when Saint Stephen’s traveled up to Clearwater to face Calvary Christian. Chase ran for 85 yards and two touchdowns. Sydney broke up a pass and helped the Falcons hold the Warriors to 24 points. Saint Stephen’s great unknowns were unproven no longer.
“To say that it was beyond our expectations for both of them is a ridiculous understatement,” Creneti said. “Both of these kids are legitimate, legitimate high school football players that can really play.”