It was a couple years ago, but Penguins defensive lineman Octavius Brown can remember his days at the Georgia Military Academy like they were yesterday.
Playing football at the Milledgeville, Georgia junior college, it was always the same routine: Mornings started at 5 a.m.; beds were made in “hospital corners” style; suits were always the dress attire; shoes were always sure to be polished. And workouts were always sure to be treacherous.
“We’d be crawling through mud — things like that,” Brown said. “It was probably the hardest time of my life. Did some horrible and tough things. So it shaped me into a man at an early age. Got me ready for everything.”
Nowadays, the senior still finds himself in the trenches from time-to-time. It’s usually on Saturdays — at the center of a resurgent Youngstown State University defensive line.
This past Saturday, Brown and the Penguins D-line helped lead the way to a 14-7 victory at Missouri State University, hounding the Bears for four sacks and eight tackles for loss.
“We wanted to attack them before they could attack us and I think we did a good job,” said Brown, who transferred to YSU in 2013. “We just try to be more physical.
“We had to hear the whole offseason that we don’t have all-conference D-lineman, we don’t got this, don’t got that. So we’ve been waiting to go out and be competitive and more physical than everyone we play.”
While Brown sits in the middle of the line, Derek Rivers works on the outside. The top Penguins (4-1) pass-rusher this season with 4 1/2 sacks, Rivers comes from a similar background as Brown.
Coming out of high school in 2012, the 6-foot-5 sophomore — after being “under-recruited” — chose to attend Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia to play football. Like Brown, he described his military year as a tough one.
“That was rough, but it really helped me mature and have a mindset of where I needed to be,” Rivers said.
So he came to YSU last season, playing sparingly as a freshman while collecting three sacks. After the 2013 campaign, Rivers was informed he’d be an every-down player this year.
“I worked really hard in the offseason,” he said. “The main thing I had to do was get my weight up, but still keep my speed. I feel like I did a pretty job of that.”
Jumping from 225 to 240 pounds, Rivers has been at the forefront of the Penguins’ defensive line success.
The talented group also features, among others, junior Terrell Williams and senior Desmond Williams on the edge, as well as junior Emmanuel Kromah in the middle.
“For a few guys, last year was our first year in and now we just fit into the system better,” Rivers said. “We’ve matured as a group, and we’re also a little bigger and more physical.”
They’re led by defensive line coach Tom Sims, who Rivers and Brown both rave about.
“He’s done so well with us that we can coach ourselves basically,” Brown said. “He tells us to give nothing less than all of what you can give.”
And that strategy has worked wonders so far. Moving forward, the Penguins’ defensive linemen simply want to continue to feed off Sims — as well as each other.
“Coach Sims hypes us up before every game,” Rivers said. “He tells us what we have to do, and we go out there and get it. We’re like a family. When one of us does good, everybody feeds off that and does well too.”